Rob’s main criteria in a home has always been security. We recently hired a cleaning woman after I had foot surgery and he ran around the house locking all his valuables up in his darkroom.

“She’s not going to take anything,” I protested.

“If she does, it won’t be my things.”

“You’re being silly.”

“Safe,” he corrected me.

So you can well imagine how happy he was to see that our lake home was wired with an alarm system before we purchased it. The fact that our security company is called Bobs doesn’t seem to bother him. Besides the view, my main selling point has always been a working brick fireplace. Our living room is tiny but the large stone-faced hearth makes up for it. I’ve always found burning logs inside a fireplace on a cold winter day utterly romantic.

As an early riser I used to like to slip downstairs on a Sunday before the rest of the family awoke and whip up a batch of biscuits or scones from scratch. This was followed by a pot of Irish Breakfast tea topped off with the morning paper in front of a roaring fire. It was difficult to get through all the tasks before one of the children discovered me but on one particular morning I almost succeeded. Everything was prepared and in order for the fire to catch and without a lot of bother I overloaded an extra bit of fire starter sticks under the main logs. I stuffed newspaper beneath that and struck the match.

The fire ignited in an instant and by the time I turned around to sit down to my tea and unread paper the room had begun to fill with smoke. Suddenly a loud piercing siren rang through the house and all the inhabitants were awake and shouting. Rob raced downstairs, rightfully screaming with the fire extinguisher in hand. He vigorously doused the blaze, pulled the flue chain, closed off doors, opened windows and within a matter of seconds managed to dig a fan out from a closet to begin blowing the smoke outside. The alarm rang on. Fire engines started to sound in the distance and increased in volume as they collected outside our front door.

Now anyone who ever forgot to open the flue knows that it does not require the assistance of an entire local volunteer firefighting team replete with four full size engines. To make matters even worse, my daughter Quinn stared out at the commotion gathering in front of our house and gasped. Mr. Johnson, the local fire chief, was heading down the front steps.

            “It’s my teacher, Mr. Johnson.”

To have your teacher enter your smoke filled chaotic home with everyone still in pajamas was a fate worse than death for a sixth grader. She started to cry. Jackson who also had Mr. Johnson two years prior ran away and spied the commotion from an upstairs window.Image

            “Get out there,” Rob shouted steering me towards the front door. “You made this mess!”

The happy thought of biscuits, tea and the Sunday Times in front of the fire were gone and I stuffed my bare feet into boots, threw a car coat over my pajamas and went outside to take my medicine.

            “Ha, ha,” I laughed nervously and clutched my coat tighter. “I forgot to open the flue. All fixed.” I shot off a shamefaced grimace and shrugged my shoulders.

The firemen were clustered at the top of the steps like it was old home week and Mr. Johnson peered inside the smoky house relieved that it wasn’t ablaze.

“My husband put it out with the extinguisher.”

He nodded. “Just what I would have done.”  

The infernal alarm finally stopped, but not before every neighbor within a half mile had come outside to see which culprit had roused them so early on a Sunday morning.

Mr. Johnson smiled. “It happens.” He wrote something down on his clipboard and radioed back to the drivers to start pulling out. “Piece of advice,” he said as he turned to leave.

            “Yes,” I answered a bit too eagerly.



            “And plenty of it.”

            The next day Quinn skulked into class hoping to go unnoticed when kind old Mr. Johnson called her out and reprimanded her absent mother in front of the entire class.

            “Remind your mother to open the flue next time!” he laughed.

When she relayed the story after school it was hard to feel too sorry for her. After the firemen left Rob had taken Jack and Quinn out to breakfast and then to a museum for the day. I had stayed home and washed the curtains twice, vacuumed the couch with baking soda, polished the floors and cleaned the windows. I also sprayed copious amounts of Febreeze. It was my choice to stay and clean, hoping it would imbed in my brain to never make that mistake again.

As a precaution we didn’t use the fireplace again for remainder of that winter but the following fall with a careful nod to safety I always had Rob check the flue before I lit the first match.



  1. Doris Martel Hernacki says:

    You had such a wonderful breakfast planned……makes a GREAT story though! I still can’t figure out if the flue in my house is open or closed 😦 Really enjoy your blog, Phoebe.

  2. Susan says:

    To Quin and to Jackson. this is one of the stories you can tell each other in years to come. Remember when mom….
    to phoebe, well just be glad it ended in a good frame. to Rob, safety is important……

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