DEAR ABBY: It's almost the end of the summer school break, and students who haven't returned to classes may be bored or curious and do something as ignorant and foolish as I did long ago.
Now retired, I was a teacher and administrative assistant. Once, however, I was very heedless and stupid. I have never told this to anyone.
One afternoon, when I was about 12, I was bored to tears. I was in a small study room in a private academy, and somebody had left a book of matches nearby. (This was in the era when smoking anywhere and everywhere was perfectly acceptable.) I had been doodling on some paper and didn't like what I had done, so I tore up the paper. A large ashtray caught my eye -- and I thought, "I'll just pile the scraps in the ashtray, set them on fire, and watch them crumple into ashes like in the movies when someone burns a picture or letter from someone he's angry at!"
To my horror, I found that life is not like a scene in the movies. The little pieces of burning paper quickly scattered red-hot fiery ashes, propelled by some unseen air currents in the room (not expected). I tried stomping them out. The tiny pile of scraps flamed higher, rapidly getting out of control. I became terrified that something else would catch fire and possibly harm someone.
Madly stomping, I finally had the presence of mind to throw a nearby tin pencil box cover on the burning papers in the ashtray. The flames subsided and nothing else was set on fire. However, after that occasion, never did I ever want to strike a match or burn anything. I had learned my lesson, and thank the Lord, neither I nor others were hurt.
The most deadly fires have been started by "children playing with matches." Please, parents, talk to your children. Teach them fire safety and how a fire behaves. Fire is NOT a toy! Take them to your local fire station and have them meet the firefighters. Even let them see how terrible a burn can be in a hospital, where they may also cheer or give a lift to children injured by fire.
I was very lucky. Someone else may not be so fortunate. Please emphasize fire safety and the serious consequences of not treating fire with respect. -- EXTREMELY REPENTANT IN BOSTON
DEAR EXTREMELY REPENTANT: This is the worst forest fire season in half a century in some parts of the country, so thank you for the timely reminder. Children are curious, and they can also be mischievous (surprise!) -- and any parents who haven't discussed fire safety with their families should waste no time in doing so. Too many lives, homes and possession have gone up in smoke because of carelessness or ignorance.