A Christmas House Fire

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As told by Jean O'Brien to Betty Dean Holmes - Holmesy86@aol.com

Jean O'Brien liked my Cape Cod Christmas story and wrote this to me - Betty Dean Holmes.

"Dear Betty,
Dec 23 2007

Many of us like to hear these stories of long ago. It sure brought back memories to my childhood days!!!

Our upstairs was as cold as your Cape Cod bedrooms. One Christmas it was storming ...we always went to my grandparents for Christmas dinner but as it was a rather bad day out , we didn't venture out. Lo and behold, along came my grandfather with a horse and his woodsleigh, with straw on the floor and several buffalo blankets for all of us to cuddle in. He'd take us to his house for our Christmas dinner. We were quite content to stay home and play with our Santa things but we had to go. My second brother had gotten a new pair of coveralls so he wore them and we each took a sweater or some warm item plus a toy and off we went. The ride was fun but cold.

Well my Mom thought we'd be late getting home, so she went upstairs and put a lot of coal in a little 'sheet-iron' stove we had up there, so as it wouldn't be too cold when we got home. As the storm grew worse , my father said we couldn't let Grampa drive us home and then he'd have to return all alone, so we all went to bed at Grandpa and Grandma's on Christmas.

About midnight or so a banging was heard at the door....Some neighbors came and alerted us that our house was on fire. My father didn't take time to even put socks on. He jumped out of bed and went wearing very little warm clothes. Many were there by then and they couldn't get in so broke the windows and threw out anything they could grab to help save some things. The high winds just fanned the flames and in no time the house was ashes!

All we could think of next morning was we'd lost all our Santa things. Jimmie said , "Well I was smart, I have my new coveralls.” We were left with only the clothes on our backs...all four children and our parents!

Because my Dad wasn't dressed properly for the weather he came down with pneumonia and was very, very sick for quite some time. I remember hearing them talk . “If he can only make it through the ninth day he may survive! Back then seems the ninth day was the critical time. Well, he made it and we spent the rest of the winter living with my grandparents. We had a general store next to our house but thankfully the wind was blowing away from the store so that was saved. Many weeks after, when my father recovered enough, he walked down the big hill to the general store the rest of the winter, and in the spring he built another house. Before that was even finished it also burned to the ground. Next they hauled a building to place on the new cement foundation and remodeled it and we lived in that house the rest of our lives.

. Believe me there never was another little stove put in our upstairs!!! Yes. like your family, we had an orange in the toe of our stocking plus nuts and candy. We always got clothing from Santa and that was okay as we loved to show off our new things when we went back to school.

I remember giving my children clothing from Santa and one year a cousin came from New York and he thought that was horrible for Santa to give clothing for Christmas!!! Guess he had more than we did back then. We often laugh at that when we get together. He still thinks clothes are a terrible gift from Santa !!!"

Jean O'Brien lives on the street where Andy's mom, Josephine Broderick, grew up in PEI. She is on a committee to do a history of the old farm families that used to live there. I wrote and asked her if I could send her story to Dave Hunter for the PEI newsletter. She said okay. Then she added this to the story:


"On Christmas Day, my younger brother reminded me I'd left out the most interesting part of the story. This happened when I was an infant.

Our house was burning and everyone was trying to help. The maid had me in her arms, and felt she should be doing more to help. She took me up the road and left me at the neighbor's, who had a baby girl just my age.

After things calmed down, they missed the baby, me, and the search was on. I couldn't be found anywhere, so they decided I'd burned in the house fire.

As my grandmother was walking home, later, she called in at the neighbor's house. The neighbor was rocking her baby. She said, “Isn't it terrible, I understand they lost everything.” “Yes”, said Grandma, “but that is not the worst. Guess you didn't hear. You are so lucky to be rocking your baby. Their baby was burned in the fire.”

Annie said, “What do you mean? Burned?” Just then a baby crawled through the doorway. Annie said, “This is their baby. Who do you think that is, crawling toward us? My grandmother couldn't believe her eyes. “Well, how did the baby get here?”“Oh, the hired girl brought her to me and went back to help at the fire. She must have forgotten about bringing her here.”

Just then the hired girl came in crying her heart out. “Oh, that dear little baby, to think she had to be in there all alone, and now she is gone forever.”

Grandmother and our neighbor had a difficult time to make her believe this was Jean, the baby that she'd brought to the neighbor to be safe when she went back to the fire. She was almost hysterical and didn't remember doing it. The house was destroyed, but the baby was saved. I am living proof of miracles."

Jean O' Brien

Dave Hunter and The Island Register: HTML and Graphics© 2007

Last Updated: 12/27/2007 3:32:12 PM
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