My grandmother was a young mother of two the day the oven exploded. She and Granddad awaited dinner company in their modest mill town home in southern Virginia. A roast and greens sat cooling on the stove top, and biscuits were wrapped snug in a wooden bowl amid the plates and cups on the table. Nana wore her pretty short sleeve dress. Her hair was done. Everything was ready, in fact, except the cake.
Opening the oven door, she looked disapprovingly at the pan. The batter had partially risen, but it sucked at her finger when she touched it. She spread her fingers carefully above the cake. The oven wasn’t nearly hot enough. She squinted toward the bottom. The pilot light had blown out.
Maybe the sweet smell of cake masked the scent of the gas vapors inside the oven. Maybe Nana was too distracted by the impending arrival of friends, her frustration over the cake, her irritation about Granddad waiting until the last minute to dress for company. Whatever the reason, she didn’t realize the danger, crouching like a hidden beast in the cavernous opening of that oven.
She placed the cake atop the stove and bent low, striking a long wooden match. As the sulfur tip sparked to flame, a ball of fire erupted from oven. It rushed at her, throwing her across the kitchen and slamming her against the far wall with enough force to shake the house. Then it was gone, winking out, leaving her blind and breathless. She slid to the floor, stunned.
Granddad rushed into the kitchen, finding his bride sitting against the far wall. The skin on the front of her body and scalp was red, all the hair singed off. “The gas—“ she murmured, but he had already reached the oven. He turned off the gas, ignoring the explosion of half-baked batter. He ran next door to ask the neighbor to watch my mother and aunt, then laid a sheet over the ruin of Nana’s dress, glad that the shock had temporarily numbed her to the pain, and carried her to the car.
At the small hospital, the pain came for her. Her skin screamed while her teeth chattered behind cracked lips. Through the open doorway, the doctor’s words came to her in soft murmurs. ‘Scarring.’ ‘Nerve damage.’ My grandfather listened quietly, then excused himself.
He was back within the hour, and he was not alone.
People in town knew about the fire talker. A quiet and unassuming man, he exchanged familiar nods with the doctor as he followed my grandfather into Nana’s hospital room. He came bearing a worn Bible and grim determination. Word spread along the corridor, and several nurses sidled into the doorway, watching silently.
As my grandfather stood beside my grandmother’s head, the fire talker opened his Bible by the foot of her bed. He read silently for a moment, closed it, and set the book amid the salve and bandages on the bedside table. He spread his hands with palms hovering inches over my grandmother’s burned skin, and began to mumble quietly.
“I was full of so much hot pain I could hardly breathe,” Nana says. “But as that man passed his hands above me, it was like I was being eased into cool water. He moved his hands above me and the cool came with him—my feet, my legs, my arms, my face—until it was all gone.”
Nana went home from the hospital that day, and she healed more quickly than doctors expected. There was no scarring, no nerve damage.
“I hear people say they won’t believe nothing they can’t explain, and I just shake my head,” Nana told me during a recent visit. She leaned forward earnestly. “Don’t you listen to them, Sugar. Miracles come to us all if we only let them.”
I wouldn’t argue with her.
***Angela Dove is an award-winning columnist and author of the book No Room for Doubt: A True Story of the Reverberations of Murder. She welcomes feedback at www.AngelaDove.com