We moved to Girard in June, 1972. It’s a town in southeast Kansas, near Pittsburg. Dad had been appointed to the United Methodist Churches in Girard and Farlington. Since it was the larger of the two churches, the parsonage was located next door to the Girard church.
At this point, it was just my little sister Evonne, my older sister Alice, and myself, of the kids who still remained at home. As with other towns, dad had his office at the church and his study at the house. The church building itself was large, old, and full of places to explore. There was a big old balcony in the sanctuary and even a window that opened just wide enough for a boy to slip through and out onto the roof of the church. It was above the front entryway steps and looked out onto the main road through town. A boy could sneak out there and spend hours watching the people go by without being discovered. It was surrounded by a sort of brick wall which I could hide behind. If a certain younger sister came walking around the church with a friend, she might be unfortunate enough to get something thrown at her or dumped on her from the roof.
The parsonage was a different story because it was almost brand new. I believe we were only the second family to live in it. It was a very nice and modern single story house.
When you live in a parsonage it is like renting a house because you don’t own it, the church does. In the case of this parsonage it was new and so all the people who worked to raise the money and get the project completed were still around. This meant that you basically had a bunch of people watching everything you did in, on , and around that house. As was discovered in later years, there were even a couple people who didn’t want kids living in the parsonage because it was new. They were convinced the preachers kids would destroy their new house. My parents were aware of this and reminded us on a regular basis to be careful.
That being said…..
I was in third grade and was watching the show Emergency every week on television. I wanted to be a firefighter. I had the Hot Wheels little die-cast metal fire trucks and Squad 51 from the show. At Christmas I was delighted to get one of my all-time greatest presents, a Tonka fire engine. It was was large like other Tonka trucks and had an aerial ladder that would reach up a couple foot. I was in heaven!
On a warm day I might get out the garden hose and pretend the house was on fire and I had been sent to put it out. I’d unreel the firehose out into the back yard and proceed to squirt the house, the doors, the windows, the bushes, and any nearby vehicles.
Inevitably, I would hear the sliding glass door fly open with a whoosh and my mom yell out “Whats going on?” I’d yell back “I’m putting out a fire!” She’d yell “What fire? Are you starting fires?!” So we went through this Abbott & Costello rendition of Who’s on First. In the end she would tell me to quit wasting water and making a mess. “Turn off that water, NOW!”
You know how some parents will tell you that they begin to worry and get suspicious about what their kids are up to if it is too quiet. I think it was the same at our house, except there were other indicators that would arouse suspicion such as running water, clanking of a ladder, or the smell of smoke.
Speaking of smoke, and rather coincidentally, my brother-in-law, Steve, worked part-time for a business that sold heat and smoke detectors for home use. Mom and dad purchased several heat detectors and one smoke detector which they installed in the new parsonage. I remember them installing the smoke detector in the main hallway where it was near the bedrooms for maximum protection at night. They even lit a match under it to test it. It worked great.
In my effort to enhance my make-believe game of firefighter, I decided to try extra things for realism. In my own defense, we have live-action video games which they try to make as realistic as possible. Of course those are only video games. We didn’t have video games yet, so I had to do the next best thing.
After the 4th of July that year the only thing I had left were several smoke bombs. While pondering my game of firefighter, it occurred to me that if I lit a smoke bomb, it would simulate a real fire and I could then shoot it with the hose and put it out.
Of course if I tied several together it would seem even more realistic. The smoke from 3 or 4 bombs would be incredible! Yes, That would be better.
I went to my room and began to tie the smoke bomb fuses together to form one large smoke bomb. It then occurred to me that if the smoke were to come out of a window in the house, that would be the closest to the real thing without actually starting a fire. Next I figured out that if the smoke bomb were in the window cill with the window closed, but the storm window open, it would billow out of the house window just like a real fire. It would be awesome and the best part is that no one in my family would be the wiser.
Famous last words…
I went into my room. I didn’t even shut the door because I was so confident in the logic of my plan. I waited till everyone was on the other side of the house. I opened the window and then carefully raised the storm window allowing fresh air into the room. I found a match and as soon as I could hear no one in the vicinity, I lit it. I then lit the smoke bomb fuse. Since I was lighting it with an open flame instead of a punk, it basically set the entire fuse on fire all at once. This meant that the smoke bombs went off almost immediately. This surprised me and I had to toss them into the window cill instead of carefully placing them. By the time they came to rest in the cill they were already belching out purple, blue, and red smoke……into my room. Fighting through the huge cloud of smoke that was now blowing into the room, I grabbed the top of the open inner window and yanked down to close it. Unfortunately, I was starting to panic a little and pulled down on one end of the window which cause it to close crooked and become jammed in the window track. I couldn’t get the window to budge.
At about this time a lovely afternoon breeze began to blow, but in the wrong direction. It was helping to push the huge cloud of smoke into the house instead of out and away. As a desperate last effort at saving myself I slammed the door shut to my bedroom.
I then opened the other window in the room and waited for the smoke bombs to subside and burn out. I stuck my face in the other open window now and breathed in the clean air from outside. I was beginning to think that even though the plan had not worked as I anticipated, I might survive. It wasn’t that I was worried about being asphyxiated by toxic smoke, though I should have, I was more worried about something more dangerous than smoke or fire and feared throughout the land…….MOM.
I waited a few seconds, the smoke bombs had quit, I had shut the door, and opened the second window. I began to believe that I was going to survive to play another day when all of a sudden…..and much to my dismay……the smoke detector that my brother-in-law got us began to work. It was loud and wailed with a shrill alert tone that probably could be heard downtown. It was so loud I’m sure dogs in the next county were howling.
This is when mom burst though the door to find me standing there in the middle of a cloud of smoke.
Mother was a child of the depression and you could describe her best as old school when it came to child discipline. I knew better than to run because that would only make her madder, plus it was hard to talk my way out of this one. The truth was odd enough, so making up a story was just not humanly possible.
There was a great deal of cleaning done and I had to be careful sitting down that evening. It was probably best that the smoke came inside rather than out the window.
I could, after all, claim the fake fire in the new parsonage had been a success because it hadn’t been noticed by any of those nosy people who were convinced those preachers kids were bound and determined to destroy their new parsonage……………Silly people.