Julia Bennett, “Beneath the Ashes” Transcript

[A short burst of radio static that ceases when the announcer begins to speak.  His voice is somewhat distorted, as if we’re listening to an old radio broadcast.  His speech is fast and clipped and his tone is somewhat excited, but otherwise unemotional.]

Announcer: Lynn Man Saves Wife From Death.  Telegram-News, January 26, 1959.  Wife Burned Badly Saved By Husband.  A West Lynn Woman became a flaming torch at 4:30 p.m. yesterday when her bathrobe became ignited as she was removing a chicken from the oven.  Mrs. Ronald L. Goudreau, 35 New Park Street, suffered first, second and third degree burns and is on the danger list at Lynn Hospital.  Mrs. Goudreau’s life probably was saved by the presence of mind of her husband, who was in another room at the time of the event.  Hearing her screams, he ran to the kitchen, and noticing her predicament, went to the bedroom for a blanket, which he quickly wrapped around her.  Engine 7 under District Chief John R. DiNatalie went to the house after the accident, but the fire damage was negligible.

[A brief pause.  The sound quality improves, as if we’re no longer hearing the speakers through a radio.]

Julia: (Softly) So what happened, Mom?

[Another brief pause before my mother begins speaking.  She has a Boston accent and speaks in a natural, off-the-cuff manner.  Soft piano music plays behind her voice.]

Mom: Back in 1959, I would have been a year and a half old.  I believe it was a Sunday, and my mother, who always cooked a big meal, and she was in the habit of leaving the oven door open—she would stand in front of it to stay warm, and back then, it was an old oven, and the flame was kind of open, and…on this particular Sunday, though, she was cooking her usual Sunday dinner and my father was in the living room watching TV, and I guess her…her dress got caught on the flame, and as she was screaming, my father had no idea what was going on, he just assumed that perhaps somebody had broken into the house and was attacking her, and when he got out in the kitchen, he saw…she was ablaze, and she was just bouncing off the walls of the kitchen, her—she was on fire.  So he did run into the bedroom, grabbed a blanket, had to actually chase her around the kitchen, wrapped her up in the blanket, put the flames out, and of course the fire department came and, ah, she was rushed to the hospital and they did not expect her to survive at all, because especially almost sixty years ago, these kinds of burns, they didn’t have the know-how…to keep somebody alive with these type burns.  And, so my father was at the hospital, waiting to see if she was going to survive or not and he was pacing up and down in the hallway, and he was blowing on his hands, and he, he was kind of in shock himself.  He didn’t even realize that he was burnt from putting her out, so the nurse came out, grabbed him, and they had to, um…they had to treat him too for burns on his hands and on his arms.  And…I guess my mother was in the hospital for probably a year.  Um…I have an older brother, and he would have been a year older than me, so my father kept my brother, and I was too young so my aunt took me.  And she didn’t have any children at the time.  So…when my mother got out of the hospital, um, ‘course, it was time for me to come home.  And I heard that, when my mother and my father went to get me from my aunt…my aunt was crying because she wanted to keep me, but she knew she couldn’t; I thought my aunt was my mother so I was crying, I was afraid to go; and my mother was crying because I wouldn’t go to her.


Mom: And, ah, again, my mother for years has said Dr. Valise, if it was not for him she never would have survived this, and I have to say he did such a wonderful job on her that her burns, you can see where, from, ah, parts of her buttocks or whatever where they, where they did most of the skin grafting, where they took the skin from, and where she was burned you would hardly even know.  Um, you would really have to look to see where she was, was burnt.  Um, he did such an incredible job.  And um… And of course that made the front page of the Lynn Telegram…ah, big headline and was the main story on the front page January 26, 1959.

[The music ends as my mother finishes her story.]