As autumn hit the calendar last week I wanted to start a fire. Because as the saying kind of goes “In the autumn a rural man’s fancy rightly turns to thoughts of burning wood.” Tennyson said it much better, but I am talking about autumn and wood, not spring and love.
Several years I neglected to clean the chimney before I started the wood-fired cook stove for the first time. Usually that wouldn’t be so bad, except on that evening our house was part of some “Christmas Gala Holiday Tour of Homes.” It’s a crazy concept: Strangers (who supposedly had purchased a ticket) roam about your house as if they owned the place, and on top of it you are expected to be okay with the arrangement.
On the afternoon of the invasion I helped by starting a fire. I fired up the cook stove to make sure it was ready. Immediately the smoke began to back up into the house – normally not a big deal. I have this routine that I go through when this happens: I open the door and windows in the kitchen, grab a large floor fan, strap on the oxygen tank and try again. Except this time the smoke continued to pour out the stove. So now the house is really smoky and my wife, Rhonda, is getting nervous; strangers are coming over in a few hours and she wants to make a good impression. I tell her the chimney just needs to be cleaned.
I climb up on the roof and shove a metal brush down the stove pipe a few times. Back in the house I take the stove apart to remove the creosote from the bottom of the pipe. I do this in the kitchen. Inside the chimney I find quite a bit of the black powder, so I go to the barn and grab a metal pail. While standing on a chair I begin to fill the pail which is balanced on the stove. Then things got a little worse.
Just as the pail was almost full it slipped and crashed to the floor. For a brief moment the room was shrouded behind a black curtain. Then the sticky, smelly powder settled and blanketed every surface – including the seasonally adorned kitchen table which was set for the trespassers. It was then Rhonda began to cry.
I did my best to assure her that in spite of how things looked they were under control. I grabbed the wet/dry vacuum and began to clean up. But something went wrong and the vacuum began to spew the contents out its backside. I tried to clean the vacuum filter in the house before Rhonda strongly suggested that I do that outside. Well, since I couldn’t get that vacuum to work I grabbed the house vacuum and proceeded to wreck that as well.
By now our son, Nathan, had stepped in to try and save the day. He knows how to fix things. He also knows that I am capable of screwing things up. But as I tell him, “I do these things so you don’t have to.” He miraculously fixed the house vacuum, even though I had offered to run out and buy a new one (or two).
With the windows still wide open the temperature in the kitchen had dropped to about 38 degrees Fahrenheit – a little too cool for entertaining complete strangers. I put the stove back together and restarted the fire with time to spare.
Before I could “help” anymore, Rhonda suggested that I welcome our guests by starting a bonfire outside.