Is this what he meant?

Last night, I had my bi-annual dose of Being A Faculty Wife.

Because Otto is a nice guy and also because he likes to entertain and perhaps ESPECIALLY because his department will reimburse him a whopping $8 per warm body (woo! let’s buy the name-brand soda!), we hosted a barbecue for some of his students. I had my inauguration into this ritual last semester, and I have to say that at the time I found it quite amusing. Especially the part where the students who’d been around for the PREVIOUS gathering at his bachelor pad sat around saying things like, “Otto, dude, you have real furniture now! It’s nice,” and then another student followed up with, “But, wait. Otto, you have KIDS now? WHOA!”

So yesterday it was time to mix up onion dip and put out the deck chairs and open our home to a bunch of young people who all regard me as a possible side-effect hallucination of their final projects and hangovers. Because DUDE, Otto isn’t supposed to have a LIFE much less a WIFE. And yet here I am, providing snacks and sliced tomatoes to put on their hamburgers. WEIRD.

It was all going swimmingly. We’re in that brief but gorgeous window of weather here in Georgia where the pollen has let up a bit, but the crushing heat of summer hasn’t yet arrived. The kids all clustered out in the gazebo where the snacks were, and they chatted and drank Cokes and ate pretzels while Otto worked the grill and I alternated between bringing things out from the kitchen and telling one of my offspring to stop tormenting the other one.

(The kids, by the way LOVE student parties. We never put out bowls of potato chips for JUST THEM, you know.)

Often when I try to engage the students in conversation they seem perplexed, like, “Why is this ancient, sustenance-providing figment of my imagination trying to talk to me?” But they are polite, if confused, and usually after a while I give up and just bring out more pretzels.

One of Otto’s students vaguely remembered what I do from the LAST party we had, and so during a lull he turned to me.

“Hey, aren’t you a freelance writer?” he asked.

I looked around. There wasn’t anyone else there, so he really was talking to me. “Yep, that’s right,” I said.

“Yeah, cool,” he said. “You ever get to cover any really awesome breaking stories?”

I laughed. “Um, I’m not exactly a front-lines journalist,” I told him. “I mean, unless you want to count when I wrote about Miley Cyrus last week, which, well, you know. I’m mostly a blogger about non-crucial stuff.” He nodded and wandered away.

I wondered—ever so briefly—what it would be like to report on breaking news. You know, stuff that actually MATTERS.

Funny, but I had no idea I’d have the chance to do so before the weekend was out.

So, um, things had been rolling along for about 90 minutes when I went over to Otto to grab another batch of hamburgers. He was concentrating on flipping patties with great precision. He was In The Zone.

In fact, he was so in The Zone that he hadn’t noticed that the grill was on fire.

The grill. Was on fire.

From where I was standing, on his right, I could see a few small flames licking the OUTSIDE of the left-hand side of the grill. To MY right and forward was the gazebo full of students, and then to my right and slightly behind me sat Chickadee and Monkey, munching happily on cheeseburgers.

“Otto,” I said, rather quietly, I thought, given the screaming I was doing in my head. “Look. LOOK. We need to turn it off. Now. Right now.”

Otto looked and nodded. “Grease,” he said. “Let me just get these flipped.”

“Let you…? Wait. No.” As I watched, the wood “wing” on the side of the left side of the grill where we normally set dishes caught the flame. “Should I get the extinguisher? I’m getting the extinguisher.”

I ran into the kitchen and grabbed the fire extinguisher. When I came back everyone was still chatting and oblivious, and now flames were rising up out of the grill. Otto was STILL MOVING FOOD AROUND ON THE GRATE, so right before I pictured the propane tank exploding and killing him in front of his students and my children, I WRESTLED THE SPATULA FROM HIM AND KILLED HIM MYSELF.

I reached over and turned off the burners and handed Otto the extinguisher. He sprayed down the fire and that, of course, caused several students to look over and notice that hey, that thing’s on fire. A few SHHHHHHHHHP SHHHHHHHHHPs from the extinguisher and it was all over… for about three seconds. Just as Otto lowered his arms, the flames roared back to life, several feet tall, and that was when every muscle in my body began to tremble, but Otto was cool as a cucumber and hit the blaze again—more thoroughly this time—with the extinguisher, and then it was over for real.

I turned around, finally, to see all eyes on us, and my daughter TAKING PICTURES. To break the tension, Otto pointed her out to his students, cracking a joke that with a deck full of photo students, the ONLY one with a camera at the ready when it mattered was the 10-year-old. Chickadee flushed with pride and the students giggled nervously and everything was fine again.

The wood was charred and the metal side of the grill was bowed out and the paint on it peeled and cracking from the intense heat. We studied the carnage, looking for a clue as to what had happened, but it wasn’t immediately clear. Probably just a build-up of grease down below the cooking surface.

Neither Otto nor I had eaten, of course, because we’d been too busy fixing food for the group, so we worked out way over to the food table to fix plates for ourselves. I put some relish on a hot dog and put that on a plate, then headed over to a vacant chair on the periphery; and then while trying to balance the plate and move Chickadee’s camera case off of the chair I dropped the hot dog on the seat. Relish went flying everywhere, I felt my face reddening, and I picked up everything I could and went inside to throw my food away.

Then I locked myself in my bathroom, sank to the floor, and let myself shake and hyperventilate for a few minutes.

When I could stand again, I came out long enough to gather up the kids and tell them it was time for bed. Then I spent extra time upstairs with them, giving them lots of extra snuggles, and came back down and started cleaning up. I never really rejoined the party, which I guess makes me a lousy hostess.

Nearly everything was cleaned up when Otto finally did the “Are you okay? Is something the matter?” thing, and I tried very hard not to yell as I explained that Yes, something is the matter, we ALMOST BURNT THE HOUSE DOWN and more than that, we did it with a deck full of people and mere feet away from the kids, and SORRY, I FIND THAT UPSETTING. I ranted on for a bit, something about how I was glad he could recover so quickly, but I require a little more time, and he just stood there and took it calmly. Finally I trailed off when I got to the part about how I’d been afraid the tank would blow and he would’ve been hurt, interrupting myself to say that everything was okay, we were all okay, it’s alright.

Otto listened, and hugged me, and launched into an explanation of how propane can’t burn as a liquid so a tank explosion is really almost impossible. This was the love language equivalent of stroking my hair and feeding me chocolate, so I felt better and relaxed, a little.

But for the record I would now like to go back to “reporting” on inconsequential things, rather than on the time we almost burned up the deck.


  1. jennielynn

    Holy Hades, Batman! That’s quite the party y’all throw. Pyrotechnics and all!

  2. Cele

    I note the words…ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE.

    And it would definately go down better with chocolate. Ummm so where’s Chickie’s pictures?

  3. littlepurplecow

    Good gosh! Now that’s why it’s a good idea to have a mom at the party.

  4. pam

    I, for the record, would like you to do that too.

  5. Nichole

    Jiminy! That’s far too much excitement for me.

  6. Ree

    What? No students thought to throw that brand-name soda on the fire?

  7. donna

    I’m still trying to get over the fact that he kept flipping burgers . . .

  8. Astrogirl

    And to think, most “real” (ha!) journalists make their first foray into reporting with lame-o stories on the fundraiser at the local VFW. You KICKED THEIR ASSES with your riveting story, and best of all it involved all the elements of a true thriller: small children, threat to life and limb, and FIRE. Dang girl, I’m impressed!

    Oh and yes, I would have had the same reaction – although, I would have been far less effective and would probably just have stood there screaming and pointing, and telling Bunker Hubby, “Fire! Put out! Get extingui-extingui-put it out! Quick! Save the baby!”

    You are hereby given a standing invitation to all my parties and BBQs. No need to bring your extinguisher, tho – we have several :).

  9. Mit

    So, I’m guessing there’s a new grill in your future?

  10. daysgoby

    Ooh! Grill shopping!

  11. All Adither

    Hey, your glasses and Monkey’s orthodontia matter, dude! A lot.

  12. ChristieNY

    Glad you’re all okay! I second the grill shopping… and chocolate eating. :)

  13. meghann

    I want to see Chickadee’s pictures.

  14. Flea

    Dang! I don’t even know where our extinguisher is. You’re my hero, Mir.

    I’m so sorry for your trauma. That’s a horrible sensation. I hope you were able to sleep okay.

  15. Cheryl

    I’m glad everyone is okay.

    And I highly recommend that you replace the grill with a smoker or charcoal grill. The food tastes better and the grill isn’t likely to explode.

  16. Big Dot

    Not to argue with Otto’s science or anything, but read this:

    “Propane is an extremely flammable gas that must be handled with absolute care. It is a heavy gas and can accumulate in low lying areas such as basements and floors, resulting in an explosion. Even when contained in cylinders, propane gas can build up pressure when exposed to extreme heat and can rupture the tank and explode.”

    We recently had a HUGE propane gas explosion in a cold store that killed a fireman. So good for you, running for the extinguisher – better safe than sorry.

  17. parodie

    That sounds like entirely too intense a BBQ.
    I can empathize – in high school (!), a group of us were up at a friend’s cottage, alone, and decided to BBQ hotdogs, and suddenly one of the guys ran into the room shouting that the propane tank was on fire. Indeed it was: not the tank itself, but the top of the tank (i.e. where one would turn it off). There was some running around panicked while people looked for the fire extinguisher (turns out it was white, not red, and we just all missed the thing that was right in front of us), when finally one of the more level-headed guys grabbed some water (I think) and just dumped it on. It went out.

    We spent the rest of the evening recovering; I spent most of the evening calming the host (remember: high school; she was 16 or so and we’d almost burnt down her family’s cottage).

    It was definitely a surreal experience – but more than a decade later, it’s mostly just quite a story. :)

  18. mamaspeak

    You are way calmer than I would’ve been. I would’ve just pushed the grill and Otto (when he said, “just let me finish…”) all into the pool. that would’ve put it all out.

    And what’s w/the gazebo? I thought you had a casino. Get rid of the casino & it’s bad karma.

    Seriously I’m glad everyone is ok.

  19. Tilly

    Eek. Glad everything turned out okay. I once set fire to my eyebrows whilst trying to burn the edges of a piece of paper. Don’t ask! But it was only much later I got upset when I realised it could have been so much worse than black pointy eyebrows.

  20. Brigitte

    I let everyone else comment on the critical stuff, while I’m just thinking about a few years from now, when Chickie’s going to start liking these parties (Ooh, real live college boys!) WAAAY too much.

  21. Daisy

    I think Chickie might grow up to be my daughter, the journalism major who never goes anywhere without a camera. The one who started a fire in the driveway and wouldn’t let us put it out until she’d taken pix.

  22. Amy@UWM

    Men and their grills. Sheesh. My husband likes to drink beer and watch the flames dance in front of him. By himself. It’s like some kind of latent childhood rebellion from when their mommies told them not to play with matches.

  23. Kristi

    Scary. Glad it ended well.

  24. Dani

    Holy crap, woman… I know exactly how you feel. BTDT and I have a shiny new Weber in the back yard to prove it.

    I’m not sure if almost burning my house down was worth it, but I lurve my new Weber. :)

    Go grill shopping. It’s therapeutic.

  25. The Other Leanne

    Congratulations on hosting the perfect BBQ for the young folk. It just doesn’t get any better than actually setting the grill on fire! Next year, and for many years after, the students will say, “Remember the time Perfesser Otto set the grill on fire?!” “Did that really happen? I thought it was a hallucination, like the wife.”
    I can’t wait to see Chickadee’s photos, do post them soon.

  26. Heather Cook

    Pics! Pics! Pics!

    Ok, yes, I get that it was traumatic and pet, pet, pet… but, um… I wanna see pictures!



  27. Jeremy Martin

    I, being a man, sincerely believe that Otto knew that he had to let more significant damage to occur in order to get the new grill. I mean had it been put out upon you first noticing the flames it would have likely been reparable and a replacement wooden “wing”. C’mon you have to put yourself in his shoes for a brief moment. With that being said I am glad you reacted the way you did though, sounds as if you were there just in the nick of time to avoid the fire further spreading.

    New reader…love the blog!

  28. Shannon

    I want to see Chickie’s pictures also.

    I don’t blame you one bit for hyperventilating in the bathroom.

  29. Jenny

    Yikes! I am almost hyperventilating sympathetically.

    Clearly, you now need a fancy stainless grill built into a lovely stone enclosure.

  30. Aimee

    Aiyiyi! Wow — glad you’re all okay; and even if there was only a VERY small chance that the tank would explode, running for the extinguisher was absolutely the right thing to do. Sheesh.

  31. Catherine

    Hmmm–was it bi-annual or semi-annual if you hosted a shindig last semester?

    Sorry to pick nits….

  32. ImpostorMom

    a tree fell on the power lines that run through our backyard about 5 years ago and it set the woods behind our house and our yard on fire. Fire department came and everything. It was traumatizing to say the least. I freak out during wind storms now, which you know we sort of have a lot of. I think your reaction is completely understandable. And yay for otto for soothing you. My husband indulges my out freakages by sitting in our tiny half bath with me, the dogs and the 16 month old during any little tornado scare. feel the love.

  33. the farmers wife

    You know, after the fire, you should have all just played Power Hour. You would have felt much better. Just ask me. The Farmer and I went to visit the daughter at college. She threw a party. The Farmer played Power Hour with some of the young men……he became quite wobbly and almost fell into the fire pit. Daughter and all the students thought it was quite amusing. I was mortified. But then again, I didn’t play Power Hour.

    – Suzanne, the Farmer’s Wife

  34. Stephanie

    Well, I was “catching up” with your life…long time no talk…when I came across this blog. I don’t think the stress was worth the $8 per warm body. ;-) I suppose Jack is in the wrong department. We had a party for *his* students and didn’t get one penny per warm body…and there were a LOT of them! :-P We didn’t almost burn down the house, though, guess that’s the “up” side.

    Glad everyone was ok. Write soon. :-)

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