It all began on the evening of Dec. 25, 2006. Our five children were in their prime Santa years: Abby, the oldest, was only 9, and the youngest, Jamie, was a mere 18 months. We’d spent the day playing and eating and napping and ignoring the accretion of Christmas detritus left in the wake of all the opened presents. But after the sun went down, it was left to Dad to clean up the mess.
So I burned most of it.
It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. A cheery Christmas demands a roaring fire in the hearth, and a roaring fire in the hearth demands stuff that burns, whether it’s wood or cardboard or the ugly red wrapping paper with the creepy-looking elves on it. Thus festivity and necessity combined, and the pile of spent trimmings was transformed into ash within minutes.
That’s where the problem really began.
Ash, it turns out, is hot. That’s why my plastic garbage bins have warnings on them that say, “Do not throw hot ash into here.” That seems like common sense, so you would think I would have paid attention to those warnings as I shoveled all the ash into the bins, which I left next to our garage outside.
Hindsight is always 20/20.
I wasn’t thinking about any of this as we crawled into bed and fell straight to sleep. And I still wasn’t thinking about it several hours later when we awoke to the sound of our toddler screaming like a banshee.
By this point, Jamie had been sleeping through the night consistently for several months. We had thought late-night emergencies were behind us, but that Christmas night the kid had been awakened by a scatological disaster that cannot be described in detail with good taste or decency. Suffice it to say that his diaper had proved inadequate.
In technical terms, this was what most parents refer to as a “blowout.”
Still, after five kids, though, blowouts really aren’t that big a deal. I cleaned it all up, and I went to get rid of the diaper. Ordinarily, I would have just tossed the thing into the garage and then taken it to the outside bins the next morning. But this thing didn’t just need to be thrown out; it needed to be disarmed. So I took it all the way out to the garbage bins …
Which were, of course, on fire.
As I buried the flames in snow, I realized that this stinky diaper had probably saved all of our lives. If Jamie hadn’t woken up, and if he hadn’t produced a WMD that required secure disposal, we would never have known about the fire, and the results may well have been tragic.
My brother-in-law, an electrician, came by the next day and pointed out that one bin had melted all the way to the ground, but along the way, it had set fire to the base of the one next to it. He said it was moments away from producing a spurt of flame that would likely have ignited all the drywall in my garage and burned down the house within minutes.
But it didn’t. We were saved. And I consider it a miracle.
I've even written a song about it called "The Miracle of the Christmas Poo." I can safely say it’s one of the best songs I've ever recorded.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.