Honestly Officer, my dad did it!
My next door neighbors in Tiffin were the sainted Celinda and her two smashing sons, Michael and Timothy. My extended family – aunts, cousins, whatnot – literally refer to her as Saint Celinda. This is perhaps due to her unreasonably calm response to the theft of her sons’ bicycles at the hands of two of my visiting cousins, but really, there are countless other reasons.
Had Celinda been a true-born Madden girl, she’d be situated between my brother Buddha and sister Ellen. But this small, olive-skinned Italian girl in the middle of giant, pasty-faced Irishmen was never going to pass as a Madden. I suspect this disappointed my parents.
Long after the genetic Madden kids had split town, Celinda and the boys were looking after our dad. Timothy and Michael shoveled his walk, mowed his lawn, and put up his Christmas tree. Celinda popped in every few days to make sure the man was still alive.
I know this makes him seem like a decrepit and ancient fellow, but indeed, he was in his sixties at the time and capable of surviving if not thriving on his own. He was just too lazy and too fond of being looked after to do it.
So how did he return the favor? He stole her newspaper, dropped in unannounced for dinner, burned down her kitchen, and on at least one occasion he snuck a peek at her in her underwear. Yet he was surprisingly endearing through it all.
Though Celinda has long been one of my dearest friends, I started off as her babysitter. Sure, there were “better” babysitters. Some “quality” caregivers learn CPR, read aloud, plan craft projects, prepare the occasional vegetable. But that’s not my bag.
About once a month I’d spend my full week’s wages to take the boys to Pizza Hut and a movie – Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or the sequel, Big Top Pee Wee, for example. You know – the classics. Otherwise, our schedule was pretty consistent: all morning we watched cartoons; most afternoons we watched bad, syndicated sit-coms; all evening we watched movies.
Some afternoons we’d take a break from Charles In Charge to play. Playtime is important in the development of the youth. We generally developed by pretending we were Transformers or Ghostbusters or Thundercats.
The latter often stirred up controversy because Timothy thought I should be Cheetara, the sole female Thundercat, but I insisted on being mighty Lion-O. I think, secretly, Tim hoped to be Lion-O rather than always getting stuck playing Snarf.
Characteristically, Michael settled on playing the wise, soft spoken Panthro. If they were smarter, the Thundercats would have made Panthro their leader instead of that showboat Lion-O. I believe it was just that weakness that always gave evil Mum-Ra the upper hand, my friends.
Back to the story. It was, indeed, while I was “babysitting” that my dad set Celinda’s kitchen on fire.
I had a hand in it. I had turned on the wrong burner on the stove. Rather than heating up the canned ravioli I’d planned for the boys’ lunch, I heated up last night’s hamburger grease on the skillet on the back burner, which caught fire.
It was quite spectacular, but entirely controllable. I turned off the back burner and went to the cupboard to find something to douse the flame – baking soda, flour, something like that. In the meantime, I sent the boys to my house next door, just to be safe. Naturally, they told my parents about the fire.
In burst my dad. Cursing under his breath at my clear, perhaps criminal incompetence, he rushed to the sink and began filling a pot with water.
“It’s a grease fire, Dad,” I called from the pantry.
“It’s a grease fire, Dad!”
He continued filling the pot. Then he turned off the faucet and moved, pot in hand, toward the flame.
“DAD! It’s a GREASE FIRE!!”
No good. My dad’s deaf.
So, water hit the flame, which rolled up the wall behind the oven, taking out the curtain over the adjacent sink then fanning about a third of the way across the ceiling before burning itself out.
And still they mowed his lawn.
So, you see, Saint Celinda.