From Chicken Soup for the Father & Son Soul

Full House

Youth is wholly experimental.

Robert Louis Stevenson

Four boys certainly made a full house for Dad and Mom. Roy, twelve, was a Second Class Boy Scout, and Joe, ten, a Sea Scout. Bill, six, and I, eight, were too young to be troublesome yet. This was my father’s logic in convincing Mom it was okay for the two of them to go out for the night.

With an admonition to leave the coal furnace alone, our folks went off for a rare evening in town. What happened next is not quite clear . . . after all, I was so young (too young to be troublesome?).

Did Joe actually push two wooden boxes into the furnace and leave the fire door open? Accounts vary depending on which of the four of us you ask. But we all agreed that when the basement caught fire it was spectacular. Joe called the fire department. He yelled, “This is Jody, our house is on fire!” And hung up. Was his reputation so widespread that the fire department knew where “Jody” lived, or did a neighbor call it in? Who knows? But the firemen did arrive. And four scraggly kids stood outside the house in awe—and maybe in the beginning of terror.

Firefighters, fire trucks, and even an ambulance rushed to the scene, and I believe the appearance of all the boy-friendly machines, the sirens, and the general uproar kept us more excited than scared. What little boy doesn’t want a fireman talking to him, picking him up, making sure he’s okay? Neighbors were on the scene, too, and I guess it was the first time I ever saw how really caring people were. One after another, the neighbors took us under their wings and into their homes while the firefighters did their job.

At midnight, Mom and Dad returned home to a dark house with a police officer standing in the doorway. “Your house has burned, Mr. Firman, and your boys have been farmed out to various neighbors.” Wow!

Fast forward to the retribution—the four prescribed spankings. Roy, first in and first out, said to yell as loud as possible because Dad had a soft heart and lacked a heavy hand. Joe and I each set off a cacophony that ensured a minimal spanking. But Bill, the little rat, bawled so piteously that he never suffered a single swat.

I wonder sometimes what Dad’s punishment was for trusting us. Did Mom let him off the hook as easily?

Despite the mildness of the punishment—considering the seriousness of our “crime”—Dad had taught his sons a lesson that, despite many further antics, we didn’t forget. We never burned another of our houses. But then again, Dad never left us home alone again either!

Win Firman

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