March 7, 2010

4-H Fans the Flames of Hell

This is a work of creative non-fiction, based on some truth and some half-truths.

Summer 1967 -- Every other Wednesday night I have to put my bicycle away after supper and go to the 4-H Center where Miss Rosentrator gives us a demonstration. She is a home economist, and responsible for building our skills and character as future homemakers and female citizens of our community.

Being 12 stinks. I don't want to learn to cook. I want to read my books. I want to write my stories. I want to sit in our porch swing where it is cooler than in that hot house. The only thing keeping our house cool are two ancient wire fans that could slice off a finger in a second of carelessness.

Mom drives me to the county seat in our beige Bel-air station wagon, with my brother and our dog in tow.

I want to stay home and play, but the Fair is 2 weeks away and I have to work on my project.

Yuck. I hate doing this.

It is so boring and I just don't care. I am never going to cook anyway because I'll be a famous writer and somebody will cook for me!

The 4-H Center is equally hot. Two pedestal fans recirculate the dense, sultry summer air.

Miss Rosentrator must be t least one hundred and fifteen years old. I know she gave this same demonstration to my mother in 1943. She has on a blue-patterned print dress that looks like the wallpaper in my grandparent's bathroom. And her shoes match the boxy ones worn by Elvira Gulch in The Wizard of Oz.

Don't get too close -- she smells like Miller's Funeral Home, but I think its Avon's Roses, Roses, Roses perfume.

She drones on and on and on about the proper use of the double boiler in a fine young lady's kitchen.

I am no fine young lady.

* * *
The next morning Mom wakes me up early to make a practice batch of brownies. I have to make the official 4-H recipe for the fair, which will be judged by the Evil Twins of Miss Rosentrator.

First, melt Baker's Chocolate and butter in a double boiler. I don't get this -- why don't you just melt it in a pan? And have you ever tasted Baker's Chocolate? It gives chocolate a bad name, and is terribly bitter. My Uncle Chet says, "Oh, how sweet but oh how bitter to kiss an old tobacco spitter." This chocolate smells like old tobacco.

Mom goes outside to put some "wash" on our tulip-shaped clothes line. We don't use our dryer in the summer. The house gets hotter and Dad thinks it is too expensive to use.

I'm thinking about writing something in my journal, down the hall in my pink bedroom. The chocolate will cook slowly on the double boiler.

My room is warm this July morning, but not as warm as the kitchen. I have two windows so a breeze sometimes wrinkles my pink chintz curtains. This is my refuge, the pink room with the pink bedspread and the pink and white shag carpet. Peace at last.

That sound shattering my peace is my Mom screaming.

Up the hall I run to the kitchen, which is on fire. The double boiler and the chocolate and the butter leap up in flame and engulfing the ceiling. Mom bravely smothers the fire, but not before it has charred the ceiling area around the stove.

It's going to be one long day before my father gets home.

I am no fine young lady.