Burning Down the House

fireI must have been the dumbest twelve year old on earth.

1978 was the year my parents signed a contract with God promising to torture me. They made me do chores after school! Like any self-respecting kid, I came straight home from school and ate a snack, watched tv, fought with my sister, and then tried to make it look like I did my chores. Vicky and I would divide the jobs, the kitchen and the back. She always got the part that had the least mess. But no matter, we were expected to have it spotless by the time mamma got home – 5:00. The torture of it all was trying to get all this work done in ten minutes. We never started early enough to get it done and the stress almost killed me.

One afternoon I was alone without help to get the normal jobs done plus one new one – clean out the fireplace. Oddly enough, I love fires. It’s the only thing I know that is always moving and staying in place at the same time. We’d had a fire just the night before. The colors amazed me and the warmth wasn’t artificial, like the heat blowing from vents in the floor. But on this afternoon, fire would be my enemy.

I started with this fireplace job first. I dreaded it most, so I tried to eliminate this torture right off the bat. I scooped up all the ashes into a bag, careful not to spill anything that would cause me further pain to clean. I carried them outside and put them in the corner of the garage. I wasn’t sure where to put them, so anywhere but in the fireplace seemed fine. Great – that job done.

Then I started cleaning the kitchen. It looked like we’d fed an army in there. The sink, what I could see of it, was loaded with pots, pans, dishes, plates, and cups, with food stuck to all of them. So, I started scraping. When I pulled the garbage can over to the sink, I realized I had to take it out before I could get anything done. And I did. Thank goodness I did.

When I opened the door to the garage that beautiful color and warmth turned very ugly. The entire corner of the garage was on fire! Panic swept over me. I ran back into the house and grabbed a cup of water. A cup. One cup. How I thought I could put out a fire with one cup is laughable. But I tried. When it didn’t work I came up with a better plan. I called my cousin, Kay.

Her mom answered. Should I tell Pat or ask for Kay? Remember that I am the dumbest kid in the world. I asked to speak to Kay. I told her my garage is on fire and I need her help. She said something smart like, “Why are you on the phone? Go get the hose!” So I did. I put it out. Kay came over and watched me watch the clock until my parents got home. I could hardly speak. I was sure it was my last day on earth. The stress almost killed me.

Then the family came home. I arranged my face in a sad, sorrowful expression hoping for amnesty. I couldn’t believe the response. No one was mad! Daddy said he could fix it. Mamma wanted to know when I was going to do the dishes. David and Vicky made fun of me. Nothing. After all that worry and stress. After all that work making my face look sad. Nothing.

Later that night Daddy did mention one thing to me. He said, “From now on, don’t put hot ashes in a paper bag.”

I must have been the dumbest twelve year old on the face of the earth.

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