Wednesday, December 21, 2011


"Hey, Cory…hang on just a second. My brothers are messin’ around in the fireplace and I gotta go check on them.”

The handset clicked as I set the phone down on the table, irritated, because Cory Huffman was the foxiest guy in the eighth grade and he called ME on the phone! My mom was at nursing classes. We (my siblings and I) were home after class and I was babysitting ‘til she got home. The fireplace was empty. My brothers weren’t around, but I could hear muffled rumblings emanating from the brick cavern. They must be upstairs. The two flights of stairs to the upper level of our split entry flew under my feet. Hhhhhmmmm….that’s weird. They’re not playing in the upstairs fireplace, either.

There was a ladder on the back porch, leaning against the side of the house, leading to the flat roof. Oh, crap! I flew up the ladder and looked around. Not a soul up there. No animals. No debris. Just some puffs of soot emanating from the chimney. Oh, dear Lord…I just knew I was going to have to end my call with Cory Huffman because something bad was definitely going on. I ran to the chimney and looked at the three portals that topped it. The right portal was filled with concrete. The middle one was open and clear. The far left portal was billowing black cotton candy clouds and every burst carried the tiny words, “HELP ME!” as they rose heavenward. I recognized the voice of my youngest brother (his name is Kent but I’ll call him Tink to protect the innocent) begging for help. I reached down as far as I could, hoping that I would brush the top of his head or find a tiny hand, but there was nothing. I reached further. Nothing. The arm of my beautiful new ivory-colored cowl neck sweater (these were really fashionable in the 70’s) was covered in black. That little rascal! Not only was my phone call with Cory Huffman ruined, but so was my new sweater! I ran back inside, hoping to see my brother’s legs emerging from the fireplace, but when they weren’t there, I ran to grab the upstairs phone to call 911 (or whatever it was back then). All I could picture was how much trouble I was gonna be in when my mom and dad got home because surely the only way for emergency personnel to get my little five-year old brother out was going to be breaking away at the exterior bricks of the chimney, make a big hole and pull him out. When I picked up the phone, I heard Cory Huffman’s voice saying, “Hello. Hello. What’s going on?”

“Cory! I’ve got to go! I’ve got to run downstairs and hang up the other phone and call for help! I’ll explain later. The next thing I knew, I was downstairs. Don’t remember hanging up the phone. Don’t remember running down. The image embedded in my memory is of two little scrawny legs dangling in the fireplace…just like something you’d see on TV when Santa comes to visit. Seriously. I swear on my son’s life. Tink kicked me frantically as I wrapped my arms around his little legs and started to pull. His legs were protruding from the flue, an object with which I quickly became intimately familiar. A flue only a few inches deep and maybe 12 inches wide. And that little son-of-a-buck’s legs were hanging out of it. I pulled and I pulled and I pulled and I pulled and I pulled. Looking back on it, it was probably not such a good idea to do that, but hey…I was only 12 or so and I was doing the best I could. When the flue finally birthed him, Tink opened his little eyes really wide (kind of like the weird way that Josh Groban does when he sings a high note and looks like a baby chick craning for sustenance from his mother) and his mouth exploded open and filled my face with soot! He was entirely black! His scrawny little arms encircled my neck and would not let go (it was the first time I ever experienced super-human strength…it really does exist…even in five-year olds) because I couldn’t pry him off of me, no matter how hard I tried. We proceeded to the bathtub, me and my human parasite, I turned on the water and we both got in together. Clothes and all. Years of therapy and all. My beautiful ivory-colored cowl neck sweater and all. The poor little guy was all scraped up. He had chunks of his scalp missing. I think he lost a shoe.

I don’t remember getting a hero’s greeting when my parents came home. I don’t remember them thanking me for saving their baby’s life. I don’t remember if I ever got my ivory-colored sweater clean. I don’t remember getting to pick what I wanted for dinner that night. Heavy sigh…

When all was sorted out, we learned that my two brothers decided to play on the roof whilst I was being courted by Cory Huffman. My older brother, Todd (we’ll just call him Todd), threw a Bert puppet down the chimney. Do you remember Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street? Well…Todd had a Bert puppet and Tink had Ernie. Todd threw his Bert puppet down the chimney and told Tink to go after it, so Tink complied. It’s eerily reminiscent of the time Todd threw his Dapper Dan down the outhouse toilet at the roadside rest area in Ohio in the middle of the night, but that’s another story that I’ll have to tell another time.

Back to the story…you know that saying about Karma? What goes around comes around? Well, I finally got what was coming to me…a glorious reward! My senior year in high school, I was a contestant in the Miss Murray Pageant (yes, I was young and beautiful once). During the interview segment, the judges asked me to tell them a funny story. I immediately thought of my favorite family story…Tink in the chimney…and I snorted. Loudly…in my ever-so-dainty-and-feminine manner which I am still known for to this very day (where’s the sarcastic font when you need it?). Some of the judges even snorted as I regaled the tale. They gawked in amazement when I explained that if Todd had chosen to cast Bert down the middle hole, Tink would have come out in the upstairs fireplace and it would have been much less traumatic. I left the interview segment and had such a good time backstage that I lost track of time. Have you ever spent time backstage during a performance? It is one of the most magical and fun places you’ll ever find (especially if there’s cute guys working on the stage crew)! Oops…sorry…I got distracted. Well, I had to go to the bathroom somethin’ fierce. As I ran towards the bathroom in my beautiful evening gown with my legs crossed trying to keep from wetting myself because I forgot to go to the bathroom because I was having such a magical and fun time backstage with the stage crew…deep breath…I heard the pageant officials frantically calling me back to the stage. I promptly returned to the stage. I never made it to the bathroom, but as I stood on stage and tightly squeezed my thighs together, the emcee announced that only one person got a perfect score on the interview segment and that the recipient was the proud winner of the Miss Poise and Personality award. They must have said my name because I now have a plaque in my treasure chest that reads, “Miss Poise and Personality.” I didn’t become Miss Murray. Just a runner-up. Michelle Somebody-Whose-Name-I-Can’t-Remember won. That bitch got my crown!!! It should have been mine! I, as a runner up, got to wear a beautiful and glorious tiara on that night, but only Miss Murray got to keep hers! Aaaaaaahhhhhhhh, the humanity!

I guess you can see why I got the Miss Poise and Personality award, huh?

Bert was never recovered.