It was near dinner time. My Mom was with the children, then two and maybe four and half years old, the old poodle keeping watch on the three of them as they worked on a puzzle.
The room we call the play room is set down a zig-zag of a hallway from our galley kitchen.
I had just put a pan with olive oil on the stove when my mom, who was at the stage when she starting to need as much care as a quick five-year old near a busy street, called out, “Mary!” Then my son cried out, “Grandma!!!” and my daughter yowled.
I ran the gauntlet to the play room, making my personal best time. Mom was trying to make a puzzle piece fit by pounding it in to place with the side of her fist, my son was trying to get the puzzle piece out of my mom’s arthritic grip and my daughter was holding a spot on her head where her brother and grandma had bumped her.
By the time I had soothed the bumped head, asked to check out the puzzle piece, and reasoned with a four year old the house was shrieking red.
The poodle stood, squared, and howled. The red light seemed to engulf the house in a twirling light.
Children and Grandma joined the poodle; the only difference being that they had their hands over their ears. I ran back to the kitchen, breaking my former record, and saw flames starting around the edges of the thickly smoking pan.
The frying pan’s lid was right by the stove and I quickly covered the pan and moved it off the burner.
The air was like mosquito nettings of oily smoke hanging in the small kitchen.
Then, quick as it was over, I heard sirens. I ran to the front of the house. Fire engines…?
I opened the door to them, explaining, “No, no, it is all okay, I put the fire out….”
“Yes, ma’am, sure, ma’am, we still have to check things out…”
“Why, yes, Sir, come in, the kitchen is straight through …”
I grew up in this town, and there have always been some nice-looking guys around but the six men that walked into my kitchen took my burnt-oil breathe away. They opened windows, felt walls, checked the basement, inspected, and double-checked.
My son appeared in the doorway to the kitchen, white-faced but willing to point out places for the firefighters to examine.
The house was safe. The poodle was quiet. My son went back in the play room with his grandmother and his sister.
And I was back in the kitchen, staring at the black grease streak that swooshed from the spot above the stove through the dining room and lingered on the ceiling of the living room, and spread out above the opened living room windows.
Now this was going to be hard to hide from my husband.