Commentaries & Essays
11:57 am
Mon February 25, 2013

A Cautionary Tale

Deborah Prum

I’m about to tell you a cautionary tale involving food, phones, fighting and fire. 

One evening while preparing dinner, I was on the phone arguing with my oldest son.  I don’t remember the subject, I just know I was right and he was wrong.  And, I told him so as I lay green beans on a metal steamer in a pot, forgot to add water, then placed the pan over high heat on the stovetop.

After a few futile minutes of conversation, I hung up. I miss the days when you could slam a receiver.  Instead, I vigorously poked the “END” button on my phone.  But, it wasn’t the same.
    
So, I channeled that negative energy into salad making, wielding my sharp knife to chop, well, to be honest, mutilate carrots, cucumbers, and lettuce.  Those happy, little endorphins started streaming back into my cranky psyche.
    
A few minutes later, my husband, Bruce, staggered in through the kitchen door, crying-tired from a twelve-hour day at the hospital.  He is a steady man, not a histrionic bone in his body. Think Star Trek’s Mister Spock without the pointy ears. So, when he screamed, I glanced up from my salad massacre.
    
He yelled a scatological term as he pointed to our stove. My stainless steel pot appeared blue.  And, the range top was covered with what resembled blobs of mercury. Mercury?  I didn’t even own a cooking thermometer.
    
Next, my husband picked up the blue-hot pot, intending to carry it out of the house.  But the bottom of the pan separated from the pot, dropping to the floor, instantly starting a twenty- inch diameter fire in its impression.  Worse yet, the molten middle portion, which had been sandwiched between the layers of aluminum, splashed to the ground, forming little balls of gleaming hot metal that rolled fifteen feet in each direction, setting about forty mini-fires throughout the kitchen and dining area. The flames leapt six inches high, starting up the walls and cabinets.  As the linoleum burned, thick black smoke filled the house.

My youngest son, flip-flops on his feet, did not fear toasted toes.  He tried to contain the fire by kicking the balls into one corner.  Cassie, my intelligence-impaired golden retriever, chased the balls, attempting to bite one. My judgment-impaired middle son ran out to the front lawn and called not the fire department, but instead, his older brother, to tell him about the spectacular fire Mom started.
    
My asthmatic lungs could not bear the noxious smoke, so I grabbed my youngest with one hand and the dumb dog in the other, heading to where I hoped the door was.  As I did so, I yelled for our fifteen-year-old houseguest, telling him to follow us out.  Bruce stayed, battled the flames and ultimately put out the fire, but not before much of the kitchen and dining area were damaged.  Later, we gathered under our Chinese cherry tree out front, counting heads and counting blessings because all heads were accounted for.  Bruce thanked me for handing him a full watering can with which he doused the flames.

I hadn’t handed him a thing.  I’d jumped ship, stumbling outside into safety, dragging the kids and dog with me. Who gave Bruce the water jug?  We don’t know, but I’m sending them a big cosmic thank you.

So, if this is a cautionary tale wherein lies the cautionary message?  We all know phoning while driving is a dangerous combination.  We can assume driving while cooking would cause problems, but who’d have predicted that cooking while phoning would be so dangerous?

Live and learn.

Hear Deborah Prum's audio essay.