The house was always freezing. An ethereal draft continually ran though the house and up our spines. Although she never showed herself, we always expected to see “the lady” down the hallway or around the corner, which kept my muscles in a perpetual state of fear flex. Jerry was good at keeping spirits high and would frequently fill the house with music from his turn table; these were the early days of the Ramones and Kiss. I loved the Ramones and I always wanted to be Peter Criss. Jerry was forever ahead of the game even in Deer Lodge, 1977.
The town developed around the state prison. Its huge rock walls resembled a castle and the prison was the centerpiece of the community. Eventually the remarkable structure would become a museum but we lived in the town at the tail end of its functionality. Mom got a job waiting tables directly across the street from the prison, at Sharf’s Family Restaurant and we would visit her at work on occasion for a coke and fries. She worked long hours and made tips from spare change to pay for our $125/month rental. On a good night she would make about $40.
It was on such a night and mom was at work. She called to say she would be working a double shift because they were short and asked if I could make dinner. This was not unusual as I had run the house since I was about six. Our limited options dictated that we would have fish sticks and macaroni and cheese. I started a pan of boiling water, preheated the oven and then helped Jason start his bath. We had a beautiful deep claw foot tub in the bathroom, which was situated right off of the kitchen. Once he was set, I went back to finish the dinner. I dumped the noodles in the boiling water and opened the oven to insert the sheet of fish sticks. Ka-BOOM! A powerful and intense ball of flames sent both me and the oven door flying across the room. The wall stopped the propulsion and knocked the wind out of me. The debris of fish sticks were scattered all around the room and the smell would lead mom to the lone one on top of the refrigerator weeks later. At later age, I would learn that the explosion might have been much worse had it not been so damn cold in the house.
I slowly gathered my senses and once I was past the initial shock, I began to cry. I was in incredible pain but with Jerry’s help managed to get up off of the floor. My brothers gathered around me to assess the damage and try and comfort me. I hobbled into the bathroom, peered into the mirror and saw that all of the hair on my face had been completely singed off. My eyelashes were a little stubble at the tips of my lids, I had no eyebrows and my lips were swollen, tender and red. I remember Jason standing naked, patting me on the back and offering me the comfort of his bath and I gladly accepted.