Warning: This story contains an image of my father in a pink bath towel. Don't worry, it is rated PG-13. No full nudity occurs.
Rule Number One: Don’t Wake Mom
(Unless the House is on Fire)
If I live to be a hundred, I will never forget the time I nearly burned down the house. I was ten years old. The incident involved a cinnamon flavored pop-tart, an aging toaster, and my sleep-deprived mother.
Mom had trained us never to wake her. She worked the night shift at a nursing home, see, and came home around seven in the morning. Rule number one growing up in our house was always Don’t Wake Mom. Not only did she stumble home red-eyed and exhausted from an evening of taking care of the elderly, but on the rare occasions I found need to wake her, it was a terrifying experience. She would always stare vacantly at us for a moment or two before something in her eyes would change and she would gasp, grab a hold of our arms, or sometimes even give a little shriek. Not how you want to start your mama’s day, trust me.
So as I stared at the thick cloud of black smoke puffing up from the malfunctioning toaster, I actually froze, considering: Do I wake mom up for this?
I’m sure that with the entire home in jeopardy, some of you are wondering why I would have even paused. All I can say in my defense is that I was pretty sure she might kill me. After all, I had actually set the house on fire. All I had wanted was a cinnamon pop tart, and I’d realized something was wrong when the minute and a half needed to toast the thing had passed, with no springing sound of the pop tart ejecting. Clearly, the toaster was eating my pop tart for me. Was this worth waking mom for? Yes. Was I going to get out of this without getting in trouble? Hard to say.
I tiptoed to her bedroom, wanting to break the news to her as gently as possible. I lightly pushed on the bedroom door, taking a deep breath.
“Mom,” I called in a hushed whisper. “Mom…”
Nothing. I hesitated. “Mom,” I managed in a slightly louder voice. “Mom… the toaster is smoking a little bit,” I was downplaying the amount of smoke, hoping that by giving her a less dramatic version of what was happening, I might lessen my punishment.
Mom stirred under her covers but didn’t open her eyes or respond. I frowned, hovering in the doorway. This was not good.
Quickly, I ran lightly down the hallway, skidding to a stop in front of the kitchen. My mouth dropped as I took in the scene in front of me. The heavy black smoke poured upwards, the pop tart a smoldering black mass of goo bubbling over the toaster. Orange flames shot up and licked the bottom of our cabinets.
I raced back down the hallway, flying into Mom’s bedroom and grabbing her by the shoulder.
“Mom,” I began urgently, “Mom… the toaster’s smoking a lot!”
She mumbled something unintelligible, attempting to roll back over.
“Mom!” I screamed, panic taking over. “Mom, the toaster is on FIRE!”
At this, with one fluid motion, she shot out of bed, threw back the covers and went sprinting down the hallway. As I followed behind, I heard, “OH MY GOD!”
She raced back by me as I cowered in the living room, entranced by the toaster fire blazing away in the next room.
What happened after that has been burned into my memory, a hilarious image that will stay with me all of my life:
“JOHN!” I heard my mother’s panicked squawk, followed by a muffled, urgent conversation hidden from my ears as it was covered by the bathroom door banging open and the hissing sound of my father’s interrupted shower.
The next thing I knew, my father came exploding down the hallway, a tiny pink bath towel wrapped around his waist, barely (but thankfully, completely) covering everything one hoped would be covered. Legs pumping like an NFL player’s, he rounded the corner, skidded across the kitchen to the toaster, and as I watched fascinated, he grasped the toaster and its cord out of the wall with one hand, hurling it into the sink and jerking on the faucet to extinguish the flames, all the while using his other hand to continue to keep his towel wrapped around his waist.
And just that quick, it was over.
I learned a lot that day (besides the obvious—that you always wake up an adult if the house is on fire). I learned that I could depend on my family. I learned that honesty is always the best policy, that I could tell my mother anything. She was angry and amused that I was afraid to wake her, given the situation. She also decided that other than a mild chastising, no other punishment was in order, considering the trauma I had just experienced in nearly burning down the house. But what I realized from that day forth is that no matter what, my mother would be there for me.
And thankfully, in every other subsequent mess I ever got myself into, the solution never again included my nearly naked father in a pink bath towel.