Soot Life | The Observer

Wendy Hodge


By WENDY HODGE

When I was a child, I suffered from a fear of fire. It all started in first year. One of the first lessons we all learned in the first month of school was STOP, DROP AND ROLL. All 25 of us in Ms. Stejskal’s class were freezing in mid-motion, falling to the ground and rolling in a way that looked more like a seizure than a fire extinguishing. Have you ever seen so many children dressed in plaids, sporting all shades of orange, brown and avocado green, struggling on the floor? It’s a sight to behold, let me tell you.

The regularity with which we practiced the STOP, DROP AND ROLL method began to induce mild anxiety in the back of my six-year-old brain. Ms. Stejskal has brought up the topic of fire safety often enough that I’m beginning to assume that house fires happen regularly in all southern homes.

The second month of school, we organized a FIRE SAFETY FAIR. While the rest of the class saw this as an exciting break from our normal routine of math and eating dough, I saw it as further confirmation that fire was an ever-present threat.

At the Fire Safety Show, we learned the importance of preventive measures, such as smoke detectors and fire alarms. Fire extinguishers and exit points have also been highlighted. And, above all, we learned the vital value of a family escape plan.

I returned home armed with so much knowledge and a sense of urgency that my mother’s left eye began to twitch.

“How many smoke detectors do we have?” When were the batteries last changed? Are they EPA certified? »

She must have wondered, “What new hell is this?” But she was patient with me and answered all my questions.

She made sure the batteries in the smoke detectors were fresh. She bought a fire extinguisher and put it under the kitchen sink. She sat down with me and drew an escape plan and a meeting point in the yard, and we stuck it on the fridge with my Smokey the Bear magnet that I had won at the fair of school.

She even unlocked the window screens so she could get out quickly in case of hell. I learned years later that every night when I fell asleep, she locked every screen because the fear of an intruder was far greater than the fear of fire for my ever-cautious mother. In the morning she unlocked them again because she knew I would check them before leaving for school.

The woman was a saint with the patience of Job himself.

Over the next few months, my worry faded, much like a fingernail that only bothers you if you rub it a certain way.

But then, one winter morning, there was a knock at the door. My mother opened it and found a salesman, hat in hand, standing on the doormat.

“Hello, ma’am,” he said, smoothing back his Brylcreem hair. “I would like to talk to you about the importance of fire insurance. You never know when you could be the victim of a house fire.

My mother, who would have been polite to a ruthless serial killer, slammed the door in his face, turned around and threw her arms across the door as if to keep us from a zombie attack.

“Did he say FIRE insurance?” I squealed.

“He went to the wrong house. He intended to go down the street to the house of Glenn the Tyrant,” she replied quickly and rushed into the kitchen to distract me with cookies.

But it was too late. The fire, once again, was on my mind. Professionals would probably call it pyrophobia. My family simply asked, “Why did we teach him to speak??

And then, in the coldest air of the year, a classmate died in a house fire. And fire became an evil thing, something I feared and hated.

Even as an adult I struggled with anything fire related. I owned houses with fireplaces that I refused to use. Campfires and bonfires always had an advantage that required effort to overcome.

And even.

Today at my job at Top Hat Chimney Sweeps, I completed my third certification towards becoming a Master Hearth Professional. The only female Master Hearth Professional in the country. Can you believe that?

Thanks to the wonderful team of people I work with, I have learned more than I ever could have imagined about fireplaces and fireplaces and yes, even fire itself. As with everything, knowledge overcomes fear.

I still have a healthy respect for the power of fire, and I always will. I will also always remember my classmate who died at the mercy of the fire. But I am still very grateful to everyone who has been patient teachers, starting with Mrs. Stejskal and my sweet mother, and continuing today with the most sincere, supportive and sincerely good people with whom I had the chance to work.

I still have my Smokey the Bear magnet, but I swapped plaid pants for a “Soot Life” t-shirt, and I wear it with pride. Hope you all find joy in your work and always stay safe!

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