Thursday, April 19, 2007

Where's the Fire?

My mom taught elementary school for 27 years, mostly second grade. She has a bunch of stories, of course, but this one is my all-time favorite.

Ernest was a good kid, but he got into mischief like boys do. He was also the messiest pack rat in the class, with his flip-top desk crammed full of papers all the time. One day, he decided to sneak out of the house with his granddad's lighter and play with it during class. Under cover of his desktop, the miracle of fire! Then, Ernest flicked his Bic one too many times.

At the time, my mom was leading guided reading groups in the back of the room. You did not interrupt guided reading groups. So, when a timid little girl showed up back there with an important message, it was something of a surprise.

"Mrs. Hicks, Ernest's desk is on fire," said a small voice.

Mom stood up and turned to survey the situation. "Ernest, is your desk on fire?"

Thick, black smoke was billowing out from under Ernest's desktop. Orange flames were licking up the sides.


Immediately, mom sprang into action, pulling Ernest out of the desk and sending her most trustworthy student to the office to get the principal. Pretty soon, the principal, a rotund man with a glass eye, came lumbering down the hallway at full speed, nearly sideswiping things on his blind side, fire extinguisher in hand. They dragged the desk outside, and put out the flames. Everyone was okay, but Ernest's extensive collection of old schoolwork was a total loss.

Strictly speaking, I guess Ernest wasn't fibbing when he answered whether his desk was on fire. The metal desk was fine. It was the papers that were burning. I'm sure he must have grown up to be a lawyer.

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