Many of you reading this were once kids who skated my ramp in the backyard of my house over on Kearney Street. So, if you happen to be one of them, you knew my little firebrand of a foster kid who lived with me in those days. This story is about him and brings a smile to my face.
As you might recall, the more I told that kid, “No, you can’t!” or “Don’t do that!” the more he defied me. I knew nothing about Opposititonal Defiance back in the day, but as I worked him through some of his tough times, I learned more and more about it, because it was in my face on a 24/7 basis. The reason why I related so well to him is, that when I was a kid wearing an American flag on my cut-off jean jacket flipping crap to any adult who crossed my path, I, too, was plagued by the disorder to oppose and defy. It is what eventually landed me in the detention center when I was 14, but I digress.
Once when warning the kid about the dangers of those metal throwing stars, I told him, “Don’t throw those at the fence in the backyard.” He did it anyway, and after successfully sticking the majority of his stars into the fence boards, his last metal star bounced back off the fence and struck him square in the forehead. I am surprised it didn’t embed itself in his head, but luckily all it did was leave a scratch, and left him peeling paint off of that fence with the string of red-hot curse words he let out.
Another time, I told him not toss sacks into the wood stove before checking to see what was in them. He ignored my advice, wadded up the paper sack, and tossed it into our big Grizzly stove in the back den. Fortunately, the kid left the doors cracked open an inch to let air in to fuel the fire, because 15 minutes later, we heard a thunderous KABOOM! It literally sounded like an M-80!
We ran into the den and saw black smoke pouring from the wood stove. Tiny red embers littered the carpet, burning dime-sized holes in more than a dozen places. Later, I discovered those red-hot embers were baked beans! Yep, the kid had tossed a can of baked beans into the stove. That can exploded with such a powerful blast, that it shot up the stove pipe like a rocket, shattered the metal casing at the top, and sent it flying ten feet across the roof. It was an explosion from hell!
The kid feigned innocence, saying, “All I did was shove a sack of garbage in the stove.” But later, when climbing up to the roof to reattach the metal cap, I discovered the mangled can of beans. I was pissed to say the least, but when I proceeded to chew him out for his lapse of judgement, all he could do is reenact the explosion by slapping his hands together, making explosive sounds with his mouth, grinning and laughing as he did it over and over.
Three months later, when summer came, I was seated at my desk in the back den, when I heard a fluttering sound coming from inside the wood stove. The first thing that came to mind was, “A bat!”
And then as I listened more closely, I heard twittering sounds and the nick and scrape of sharp talons on the belly of the stove. “Squirrel!” I thought. “Oh, my God, I’ve heard stories of squirrels dropping down through chimneys and tearing houses apart just to get free!”
The fact is, the metal casing that gone blown off during the baked bean explosion, had come loose and fell off, leaving a wide, open hole for whatever creature had found its way into the wood stove. Having my mind made up it was a squirrel, I sent the kid out to the truck to retrieve a big fishing net.
The kid came running back inside, all excited about the prospect of playing Crocodile Hunter by catching a wild squirrel. The two of us were psyched up, too, with me holding the net and standing the middle ground, while the kid took hold of the door handles, saying, “On three, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, cringing as I thought of getting bit by that nasty little tree rat trapped inside the stove.
The kid counted, “One. Two. Three!” and swung the doors open!
I must admit the starling bird that flew out and directly into my net was a real let down. I thought for sure I would have a great story to tell later of how we braved the capture of a fidgety, snickering, wild and spastic squirrel. But a bird? And a starling, no less?
As we let the poor bird go out in the backyard, the kid said, “Well, that was dramatic. Who would have thought we’d had that much excitement over a can of beans?”
Now, every time I eat baked beans I think of that story. The lesson to be learned is: Don’t put baked beans in the wood stove!