Here I go announcing to the world something I’ve never told a living soul. But before I begin, I need to explain the reason for my very strange phobia. It all began when I was about five and living in a row house. Until I was 19 it was the only type of home I knew.
To explain, a row house really is different than living in a multiple apartment complex or a town house. Older homes, in Philadelphia and most cities in the east, were without front porches. Usually, they were made of red brick and had what we called “three steps and in” made of something akin to marble, like in the Rocky movie. Inside were the living room, then the dining room and kitchen. The second floor consisted of three bedrooms and one bath, usually without a shower.
Most of the older homes had basements and a small fenced in back yard. The newer places had a front porch; with steps up to the front making the first floor really the second and the second floor really the third. They had a basement and garage in the back that was actually the first floor. Ok, now you understand row houses?
One thing about row houses is that while they were all attached, the walls were very thick and you didn’t hear much going on next door. That’s the way it was on that fateful day when I was five and my phobia began. My sister Jeanne and I had been ill with bad colds. So mother decided to put us in her and daddy’s bed in the front bedroom so that she could get to us from the living room quicker than if we were in our back bedroom. Suddenly. one could smell smoke, and the sound of fire engines could be heard heading our way. Outside somebody put up a ladder to the bedroom just next to where Jeanne and I were in bed. Of course, being little girls, we got up and went to the window.
There, just inches from my little face, was a man in a mask with a huge hat on his head. All I could see was that enormous face with enormous eyes and I was scared to death. Out of the window people pushed a flaming bed. This just added to my little girl fear.
From that day to now the sound of a fire truck, or especially the sight of a fireman in his fire gear, scares the be jeepers out of me. My knees turn to water and all I want to do is hide inside of a closet and get away from everything. I know this is stupid, I’m not five anymore. I even tried getting over this phobia by visiting a fireman friend at his stationhouse. It didn’t help at all, my knees almost buckled while I was there.
Recently, a new show called Chicago Fire came on television and I am really coming to grips with this stupid problem.
“Edna!” I said to myself, just look at what these people do every day. Now I realize this is just a television show, however it does represent what fireman and firewomen do every single day. They don’t just stand around pouring water on a fire, they rescue people from all kinds of accidents; they administer aid in circumstances from which most of us would run away. They are heroes every, single day. So this old lady is now over this stupid, five year old’s phobia.
But I still have one more common and easier to understand phobia. I’m afraid of heights. Get me two feet off of the ground and I get dizzy and my heart pounds almost out of my chest. However, I wasn’t always aware I had this other fear. I realized it when I was about 18 and on a trip to New York City with fellow employees from Philadelphia.
We took an elevator to the top of the Rockefeller Center Building. I got off and found myself inside an enclosed room that held one of those souvenir stands. Outside its huge windows was a walkway with walls only waist high that you could look over to see the scene below. I couldn’t move. I stayed inches from that elevator waiting to get back inside and heading down to terra firma.
While I’m over the “fireman” thing, the fear of heights, my friends, is here forever.
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.