“Fourteen heads, and thirteen bodies! They were all charred!”. Those are the indelible words that my grandfather used to describe one of the most horrific arsons in CT history. At dinner. At the home of his nephew’s girlfriend whose family was being introduced to ours for the first time.
In in the interest of disclosures, I was technically present for this story, but only 7 years old, and completely engrossed in the magical new technology known as the Atari 2600. The retelling of it is my father’s and always in the vein of “Can you believe what AI did? “ Not necessary a stone that he can throw, but that’s a digression for another day.
The year was 1982, and the old man was a fire commissioner in Waterbury with a flair for gallows humor. A week or so earlier, he’d been called to the scene of an arson at an apartment complex near the Waterbury green. The fire had been started over a petty argument and claimed the lives of 14 people as they slept and made national. The arsonist is currently serving consecutive life sentences. The details are horrific, and to my grandfather, perfect light conversation over pasta.
On the day of story, the girlfriend’s family had invited my father’s cousin to use their Red Sox season tickets, and join them for dinner afterward. They had a son my age, and I departed from the tale to play Combat, and
As with the any meeting, the “So what do you do?” questions start getting tossed around with the standard perfunctory answers, My father was a school teacher, my cousin girlfriend worked as sport medicine, her father was a lawyer and the family was Jewish (which we learned when my grandfather noted the father’s glasses were similar to his own, and said “Aw, they always make fun of my Jew glasses”. Kind of like an awkwardness aperitif for the main course.
The old man said he was a retired brass worker, who was fire commissioner in Waterbury. Then followed up with “Did you see that big fire on TV. I was there”
My father claims to have said something akin to “Dad, please” (unlikely, as the man’s a gifted agitator) but the girlfriend’s mother asked for more and the hook, as they say, was set.
“They called me & the coroner out when they started finding bodies. It was the worst we ever saw. Worse than the plane crash I saw in Medic Corps and a guy fell apart in my arms on that one.” He said, as he tore open a roll and paused to ask for butter.
Since the table had gone silent, he must have assumed that it was clear to continue. “They were all burnt up & melted, and the smell was awful! These ziti are pretty good! Are you sure you’re not Eye-talians?” It turned out that the mother was.
“So when the firemen finally got everyone out, we had a problem” He went on. “ We counted ‘em up, and had to keep starting over again. We kept coming up with 14 heads, and only 13 bodies! So I said to the coroner, ‘Hey Joe, Somebody got two heads! Whatta we do?’
And he said ‘Just throw em in one bag! We’ll sort it out at the office.’ I don’t know how we’re going identify ‘em, they all had those Teflon teeth and they burnt up in the fire” To this day, none of us know what the fuck he meant by Teflon teeth. “ Oh, I don’t know. Can you believe that? Fourteen heads and Thirteen bodies! All charred ‘cause of that bastard. I hope they put ‘em away forever”. I’m guessing that there must have been polite agreement, because that’s where the story ends.
We all still reminisce about the incident, but I can’t remember the family’s name, because needless to say... The daughter did not marry my cousin.