Out of utter humility and embarrassment, I want to share with you a story of how hilariously hazardous writing can become. I pray for your mercy and understanding as you read this story.
REAL-LIFE STORIES ADD LIFE TO OUR FICTIONAL STORIES
I learned I should never dump swept up fireplace ash into a cardboard box.
On a cold wintry afternoon a couple years ago, Connie scooted out on some errands to give me an undisturbed afternoon to work on my latest story. I got tunnel-visioned as I often do but I managed a quick break when I got up to refill my coffee mug to remove the ash from the fireplace, as my wife had requested before she left. I shoveled the dusty, dark gray remains of the split oak logs that I had burned to cut the chill from the front of the house that morning. I placed the new ash atop the damp old ash from the previous day occupying the bottom half of a frozen cardboard box I kept on the back porch. When I reopened the door to complete my chore, the blast of bitter chill air caused me to tuck the box posthaste beneath the nearest metal chair on the porch. I ignored the fact a couple days earlier I had draped a neatly folded old grill cover over the top of the chair–a new grill cover now protected our grill from the weather.
I scooted back to my writing desk situated just across the den from the back door. Minutes later, I’m banging away on my keyboard once again with my back to the door entranced by the creative flow of words racing across the screen until a whiff of unfamiliar smoke catches my attention—I wondered who would burn anything on such a cold winter’s day, especially emitting a burning plastic smell. I turned my head to look out the windows beside my desk towards the woods out back but noticed nothing. I attempted to refocus on my writing frenzy but my eyes noticed flickering on the computer screen. I spun around to discover flames rising from the metal chair on the porch. Flames and black smoke from the burning plastic grill cover ignited by the cardboard box now on fire beneath the chair thanks to the resurrected-from-the-dead embers I obviously swept up amongst the ashes.
Move to the scene of me racing from my chair, yanking the door open, and racing onto the porch in my flip-flops and shorts. I flung the flaming grill cover into the grass and then kicked the smoldering cardboard box into the nearby winter-barren garden. Suddenly I realized the smoldering grill cover lit the dead grass in my backyard. The flames spread like a prairie fire (slight exaggeration). Wearing only cheap flip-flops, I frantically stomped at the growing flames to no avail. I hurried to the side yard and reattached the garden hose—removed for the winter from the covered spigot. A long minute later, I doused the sprawling flames that scorched a sizeable chunk of my dormant rear lawn, and then for good measure, I soaked the charred remains of the cardboard box in the garden. At this point several things became profoundly clear to me: I fought these oh-my-god flames in shorts, t-shirt, and my cheap flip-flops in bone-chilling, damp cold air; thankfully, none of my neighbors appeared to be home to witness my comical calamity; the black metal chair on the porch would require a good wire brushing followed by some Krylon spray paint; and, some of the moss green vinyl siding on the porch wall had buckled from the heat and would need replacing. While I mumbled and grumbled and shivered assessing my utter stupidity, the sound of the garage door opening announced Connie’s return. That’s when the real horror swept over me!
The initial shock on Connie’s face turned to belly-laughs as I recanted the story of how I rescued the house from my carelessness. A week later, I replaced the vinyl siding (thankfully I had extra stored in the garage) and added some nice new cedar window trim for good measure, winning a cynical smile from my wife. This story finds new life, every so often, whenever Connie finds the urge to expound stories about her ding-dong husband. I gleefully point to the red metal ash bucket beside the fireplace as my trophy for my heroic rescue that day.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it…