I didn't burn down the house today, but I came close.
I had some milk and sugar on the stove for some cakes I'm making for a teacher-celebration thing later in the week. Harley and Oliver were playing with stuffed animals on the kitchen floor when I went to get the cocoa powder from the pantry. Ten seconds later I was back, scooping the cocoa out of the plastic bag I had set on the cold burner next to the pot. I was on cup number three (this is a big celebration requiring lots of cake) when POOOOOOF the burner under the stove ignited, instantly melting the bottom of the two-gallon ziploc bag. I quick threw the bag into the sink, not realizing it was bottomless, and cocoa powder went flying everywhere. The good news was that the five-inch-thick layer of cocoa powder extinguished the fire before I could see that the burner was on and turn it off. The bad news was obvious, and everywhere.
Apparently, either Oliver had turned the knob or I had somehow managed to it with hook my pocket, but the gas to that burner was turned on a little bit. It must have collected under the bag enough to pool over into the neighboring flame. I'd like to see the play on tape, but alas, the episode remains un-photodocumented.
I still had a cake to bake, though, so I measued out the last of the cocoa powder, stirred it in, and set about cleaning up. I was able to salvage a few cups of the cocoa before it was time to get the vacuum cleaner. We bought our vacuum cleaner at a janitorial supply store and it has a nice long hose for just this sort of thing. Most of the cocoa powder was on the pooooof burner, but some had gotten near the cake-pot and I noticed that it glowed a little when I sucked it up. No worries, I thought, all the cocoa powder I'm sucking up behind it will put it out, no problem.
When Earl came in the house, having smelled what he thought might be burning flesh from the heifer barn and called for me, expecting the worst, I didn't answer because I had the water running and the fan on. He looked all around the house, imagining some horrible scene. When he found us out in the new kitchen on the Slab, I had a new bag in the vacuum cleaner, was wiping down the last of the burners, and had transferred the cake batter to a mixing bowl. I could have been whistling. The old vacuum bag was outside the french doors, finally extinguished after three pots of water, and Harley was all excited to tell how he had crawled--randomly, like a baby showing off--when he saw the smoke, because that's what you do in a fire.
Earl pointed out, of course, that the vacuum cleaner pulled a lot of air, and oxygen, in with the smoldering cocoa powder. Did I remember the fire triangle? Heat, fuel, oxygen? Well, yes, just not in the moment. But my lightning-quick reflexes had the vacuum cleaner dismantled, bag out and out the door before the plastic started to melt. And there really wasn't all that much smoke. Our vision, for example, had not been obscurred.
It's not coming across so well here, but the whole thing felt like random weirdness in the midst of me baking this cake--which turned out beautifully and proceeded through its steps without a hitch. I've been reading this book about a college for evangelical christian kids who think of God as guiding their every step. I've been imagining God as sitting in a room full of switches, like an airplane cockpit or the radio station I worked at in high school, only bigger to handle all the infinity. So I'm thinking that maybe, for a nanosecond around twelve-thirty this afternoon, God got up to take a little well-deserved coffee break and maybe his visiting nephew, Timmy, happened into the room, knocked the auto-pilot control-lock switch with his elbow, and started pressing buttons.
Maybe tomorrow's news will be full of stories from the AP wire,--cats inexplicably trapped in refrigerators, cars that come out of gear and roll off embankments, random small explosions (Timmy's favorite red button)--across the globe. The New Testament seems to be carrying the day, because there hasn't been any lightning or earthquaking. Timmy, and I, have apparently been forgiven. The house, after all, didn't actually burn down.