It was Saturday — laundry day. I put my dirty laundry into my shopping cart, pulled it to the elevator of my apartment building and rode down from the fifth floor to the first and onto the sidewalk. I pulled the cart behind me up and down from one curb to the next until I reached Mosholu Parkway six city blocks from where I lived. I headed for the Laundromat which was on the other side of the street. I put my clothes into the machine, set the cycles and started it washing away.
I looked at my watch as I walked back across the street as usual to the butcher I had just thirty minutes to make my purchase of the day’s meat for dinner before going back to the Laundromat to put my wet clothes into the dryer.
I was about to cross the street when I saw my friend Maggie approaching. We stopped to chat for only a few minutes but that turned into 30. As I moved to tend to my laundry, I looked across the street and in a moment the entire block blew up. Fire blazed from one end of the street to the other. I heard screaming and torturous cries for help.
I was standing right next to the fire alarm box. I stood frozen in place, too shocked to move. Another person, braver than I, came along and did what I should have done — turned on the alarm. Fire trucks came and firemen swarmed all over the block.
I got to a public telephone to call my husband to tell him I was okay. He was glad I called because he had already heard the news.
The next day Maggie and I walked back to the scene of the disaster. All we saw were charred remains of what had been an entire row of shops: a luncheonette, a green grocer, a barber shop, a convenience store, a candy store and the Laundromat. Firemen still probed the ruins.
It had been a gas explosion. Someone told us that three people had been killed. I thought that if I hadn’t stopped to chat with Maggie I could have been one of them.
I dreaded returning to the Laundromat, but I walked hesitatingly across the street to it. The glass front of the store lay in a million shards all over the sidewalk. There was a heavy smell of smoke as I walked gingerly into the charred remains. I slowly lifted the lid of the washing machine and cautiously looked inside. There were my clothes, still wet, safe from the flames inside the washing machine!
I pulled my clothes out and walked home, thanking God for my safety. And also thanking chatty Maggie for coming along at just the right moment.
This article originally appeared in Roadrunner Extra!, the resident newsletter of Beatitudes Campus.