Tamsen’s Review: Now I’m waiting for the Earth & Wind article to cover all the elements. ?
When I was a child, my father was a member of the volunteer fire department. He was not on duty the day there was a fire at our house. Smoke was pouring out from the crawl space beneath the structure. My mother called the fire department, my father’s fellow firefighting comrades.
When they arrived at our front door, with the big truck and several determined men, my mother blocked the doorway and told them “You’re not coming through here!” She was adamant, indicating their boots and hoses. We had cream-colored wall-to-wall carpeting in our living room. My mother had the grit and determination to make grown men heed her commands. Not wanting to deal with the mess they would leave on her pristine carpeting, she sent them around to the back of the house, where they quickly doused the fire beneath it. “They did not need to come through the house,” she reasoned with my father when he returned home. Her children continue to verify that fact to this day, even though neither parent is around to continue the argument.
That was the first house my parents owned. They were quickly learning the wisdom of seasoned homeowners: problems, big or small, appear at an annoyingly continuous rate. Home ownership is the American Dream…or nightmare. If television producers made a show called American Nightmare, it would be about a couple who purchase the perfect home not knowing that as they sleep, integral parts of the house are beginning to fail, which will lead to situations that put them in physical and financial jeopardy. Or just make them bat shit crazy.
Part of adulthood is learning the responsibilities and skills of paying a mortgage on a place you have no other choice but to call your own. Remembering to replace the smoke alarm batteries, recognizing the smell of natural gas, occasionally looking around the outside for wood rot, holding yourself together when you find a large family of rats residing in your wall, calling for estimates when your hot water heater (in the attic) leaks and you could take a shower in your front hallway. Knowing where to shut off the water and electricity ought to be the first thing learned about a house, whether you own it or not. Waiting until there’s a fire in your garage or a flood in your front hallway adds undue excitement to the disaster,
Our latest home has required minor repairs that accompany the conditions of a 75-year-old house. Some mishaps have been of our own making. Last week my husband arrived suddenly in the kitchen saying “Do you smell smoke?’ I did. There was a scramble to find the source, quench the flames and find someone to fix the damage. We sniffed in every room but none smelled as strongly as the kitchen. Feeling a bit frantic and bewildered, we searched the attic and the basement for signs of anything engulfed in flames. We opened cabinets, felt walls, inspected the crappy oven, all to no avail. Nothing seemed to be on fire yet the smell of smoke was getting worse. The refrigerator continued to quietly hum along. We looked behind it. Then I remembered that the dishwasher had recently been run.
When I opened the dishwasher door, smoke billowed out. No way! How could that be? The appliance that spews water all over the inside of its tiny box full of our dishes could not possibly be the source of a fire. Perhaps it was some electrical mishap. We carefully pulled out the bottom rack to find a paper towel on fire, fueled by the onrush of oxygen from the room. My husband expertly grabbed a clean fork, lifted the conflagration and deposited it into the sink. I stood ready with the sprayer and the drama of fire was quickly extinguished. When submitted to the drying cycle of the “heavy scrubber” program on our dial, the paper towel dried, then settled on a heating element and with just enough air circulation, started to slowly burn. The entire episode took only a couple minutes. The mystery of how the paper towel got into the dishwasher undetected remains unsolved. It smelled like a campfire in there for days. At least it didn’t bust a hose and flood the kitchen.
We are well-versed in the calamity of flooding, having had water seep into the southeast corner of our Houston house, dousing the cream-colored wall-to-wall carpeting (do I take after my mother?) and furniture legs after a heavy storm delivered more water than could be properly handled around our foundation. The water subsided quickly, leaving us with the chore of sopping up and drying off. We had to move furniture out of harm’s way and towel off the drippy bits. We grabbed onto the slippery plush pile of our soggy carpeting, certain that even an inch of water would void its stain-resistant, odor-neutralizing, stands-up-to-heavy-traffic attributions. It was already taking on the faint odor of week-old broccoli.
Tugging with all our might, the soaked carpet slithered from our grasp. It was, of course, nailed down. A trip to the garage brought many crude tools for gouging out the edges along the foot boards and ripping the carpeting and padding from its hold onto the floor to reveal the wood strips and dank concrete beneath. It was shocking to see the foundation that was really the floor of our home laid bare; like accidentally seeing your grandma in her underwear, without makeup and wig. Only that thin veneer of previously plush carpet stood between us and the reality of living on dirty, drab concrete. Towels and fans were deployed in rooms left deserted for a short duration.
Floods are a nasty business. We were spared during the Hurricane Harvey flooding by mere inches. After seeing the devastation of our neighbors’ houses, we are ever vigilant when flooding possibilities arise. We moved close to the top of a nice tall hill not long after the Harvey disaster. Far from any bodies of water, we felt assured that we were reasonably safe from unexpected liquidity.
Last week, yes, the same last week as the fire episode, the rainfall in our mountain hamlet was continuous for days. When my husband checked the basement, water was seeping into the back corner where we still have moving boxes filled with stuff we probably don’t need. Prudently, we had lined the floor with all our plastic storage bins along with a couple of heavier cardboard boxes which were quickly relocated. Water was our well-known foe. We rose to the challenge, along with the moisture level in our basement.
Minor panic can be fuel for igniting the sympathetic nervous system, the fight or flight response. During Harvey, we opted for flight accompanied by a great deal of fuss and floundering. We evacuated and left all our worldly goods to chance. This time, with the level of dire consequence at a lower point on the dial, we chose to fight. We grabbed a small arsenal of towels, about five, and began to apply them to the floor of our basement. When I say “we,” I mean my husband. But I found all the towels and cheered him on for about 10 minutes.
The calamity of slowly seeping water simply did not hold my attention for long. We had a puppy upstairs frantically trying to join us in the basement. I left my husband to tackle the incident and returned above ground to tranquilize the dog with my quiet reassurances. It was a rather placid disaster held at bay by my husband’s day-long ministrations. Towels were deployed, wrung out and replaced throughout the day. My suggestion of rotating them through the dryer was met with disregard. Smugly, I later heard the dryer going. You can wring out a sopping towel only so many times before your hands get red and the towels take on a sinister smell and slimy feel.
This went on all day. It rained all day. We decided to cancel our evening plans and keep a vigil at home. As the rain began to subside, my basement dwelling hero kept monitoring the weather reports, bravely announcing that he may have to do towel duty throughout the night. I briefly considered running to Goodwill for more towels.
In the end, we let it go. He had sopped up a few gallons of water during the day. Not so much when considered from a sane point of view. The peril of basement flooding had been averted. My gallant husband declared that the rainfall had subsided enough and it was safe to go to bed and get a good night’s sleep. As I lay in bed, I wondered when we last checked the batteries in the smoke detectors. It suddenly dawned on me that none went off during the Great Dishwasher Fire of 2020. Acknowledging that we were probably not mature enough to handle all the homeowner responsibilities, I slept, knowing I would forget to check the alarm batteries the next day, but that it would all be okay. The fire department is just down the street and I don’t have cream-colored, wall-to-wall carpeting to defend.
It’s always something,
Guest Editor Tamsen and I share firefighter father stories of horror and mayhem, which also describes the mess I gave her to edit. I appreciate her patience and bravery (she asked for a comma and I gave it to her!)