“Life with Smuffy (Episode 4): That Sinking Feeling Returns” (or, “Shoeless, Clueless and as Wet as it Gets”)

I hope you’ve had a chance, after Smuffy’s last adventure, to lie down with a cold compress and talk over your traumatic experience with your best friend or therapist, because our cliffhanger resumes today and we’ll soon find out what an apt term that is.

We last had a rear view as Smuffy rolled out of the driveway on his way to meet up with Steve. Yes, good ‘ol Steve – you can count on him once every twenty years or so to be on hand when Smuffy really does things up big.

First Mate Steve www.midweststoryteller.com

This installment is the last half of what is known as a “two-parter”, so if you’ve not gone along with Smuffy in “Life with Smuffy (Episode 3): “That Sinking Feeling” (or, “The Wreck of ‘97”), then you’d better fix yourself a cup of tea, click here and do a bit of catching up because we’ve reached the part where things are about to go overboard.

In Episode 3, we learned that Smuffy (aka Captain Super Wonder Water Man) has no boundaries when it comes to water. It takes him back to his carefree childhood where fun overrides any possibility of getting a boo-boo.

Born Fearless www.midweststoryteller.com

Though I’d learned to endure, his wild river adventures were enough reduce me, as the saying goes, to a mere shadow of my former self.

I’d thought perhaps that the Wreck of ’97 had been just the thing Smuffy needed to cure him of his illusions of invincibility. After all, he’d come within a hair’s breadth of killing his old college buddy, Steve, filled his classic wooden boat full of holes, thrown his boat motor overboard, journeyed down three or four rivers in the dark with no steering and had spent a week telling me he never wanted to be in a boat again as long as he lived.

Now, however, I stood at my back door watching my lunatic husband return to the scene of the crime.

It seemed all he’d needed was a little rest to recharge his super powers. He become convinced – no, obsessed – with the notion that he knew the exact spot where the wreck happened. I didn’t doubt it. You’d think it would be seared upon his little gray cells. With that vivid mental image, he also claimed to know the exact spot where his precious 1962 Wizard 7.5 horsepower boat motor lay at the bottom of the river. This led him to believe that he could not only recover the motor but disassemble it, dry it out and have it running again in no time.

Having vowed to never again be the wife who paced the floor in the wee hours wondering if she still had a husband, I’d issued every threat I could think of should Smuffy not return by dark. I promised myself to follow through on the one I thought would prove I meant business. At thirty minutes past sunset, I’d send the sheriff after him. I knew Smuffy well enough to know that the weekly report in our local small town paper, listing him amongst all the other characters in the county who’d shared an encounter with the law, would be an embarrassment to him. If this last ditch effort didn’t cure him, I’d have to throw a mattress out on the deck and change the locks.

Captain Super Wonder Water Man, believing that paddles are for mere mortals, had his canoe licensed and outfitted with the biggest motor he could without causing it to sink or fly.

Smuffy's Canoe www.midweststoryteller.com

His plan began with having Steve drive him all the way to the river access just above where “X” marked the spot. Steve, always such a help, would then drop Smuffy and the canoe into the river and come back home. Captain Super Wonder Water Man would then make his way downstream, dive for the motor, hoist it into the canoe and motor down one scenic river after another until he made it back to the river access close to home where his truck would be waiting. He’d assured me that his expert observances of the Missouri River, just a few blocks from our house, had indicated lower water levels. The motor shouldn’t be too far underwater.

It all sounded so simple to hear Smuffy describe it.

I moaned as Smuffy’s rear bumper disappeared down the street and went back into the house to do what I usually did when he’d lost his marbles. I cleaned. I cooked. I spent quality time with my young daughter. I prayed. I thought a few murderous thoughts and prayed some more.

After an hour’s drive north, Smuffy and Steve arrived at the ramp around two o’clock that afternoon. Though Steve offered to drive downstream and wait, Smuffy brushed off this notion as over-cautious and told him to head on home.

Steve did as instructed, probably due to the fact that he’d been knocked unconscious in the wreck two weeks before, was still giddy at finding himself alive and not in the river with Smuffy and lacked the wherewithal to call Smuffy an idiot right there on the spot.

A few minutes after he’d started home, Steve came to his senses. When he came to a bridge over the river, he pulled over and waited for Smuffy to pass beneath, knowing he’d have to allow him a little time to reach the motor and wrestle it into the canoe.

Sometime between three and four o’clock, my phone rang. Steve’s voice, calm and steady as ever, came on the line. I sighed with relief, glad to have any update on Mission: Insanity. I felt a numb sense of disbelief as he spoke, accompanied by a little voice that seemed to be asking what else I might have expected.

After telling me that he’d seen Smuffy heading downriver before driving away, Steve had waited at the bridge. In fact, he’d already waited over an hour before finding a phone and calling me. He’d kept a sharp eye out and seemed certain that neither man nor canoe had passed beneath him unnoticed. He asked me what I wanted him to do.

Do? The word perplexed me. What could he do? All my instincts screamed at me to tell Steve to go after Smuffy and not come home without him. All my logic counseled me as to the futility of it all. Steve had no boat, no life jacket and no other means of getting someone out of the river. As much as I hated the thought of Smuffy, out there all alone without even having someone nearby, just in case, I knew Steve couldn’t just keep sitting there. I told him to come on home.

Smuffy had been right about one thing – the water levels had dropped. After the rivers’ dramatic drop on the day of the wreck, they had continued to drop ever since. While he’d been aware of this and glad that it might help him spot his boat motor with ease and haul it up without a great deal of effort, he hadn’t been prepared for what awaited him around the first bend in the river.

The Missouri’s tributaries had emptied out. Two weeks before, they’d run high, wide and swift. After Steve drove away, Smuffy spent only a few moments motoring through this now shallow stream, gazing in awe above his head at the water line left by the previous flooding. Then, he hit gravel. The once rushing river that had allowed his wooden runabout to cruise along at full speed no longer held enough water to float a canoe.

Raising the motor, he got out and dragged the canoe until he reached a deeper stretch of water. Hopping back in, he started the motor and cruised on ahead. Then, he hit gravel. Another drag brought him to deeper water again and Smuffy began a cycle that would stretch over the hours and miles. He began to wish he’d told Steve to wait.

Smuffy’s map and his memory led him to the “X” and his prize lay in the exact spot he’d dropped it. The only problem seemed to be that the boat motor no longer lay at the bottom of the river. Shielding his eyes from the sun, he studied it as it lay fifteen feet above his head, straight up the riverbank, a clear indication of just how flooded the river had been on the day of the wreck.

Not one to let a slight hitch abort the mission, Smuffy summoned his superpowers for feats on dry land and, grabbing onto dead limbs and roots, scaled the heights and reached the motor. After an exciting descent with it clutched to his bosom, he deposited it into his canoe and shoved off. Then, he hit gravel.

The extra weight of the additional motor made hitting bottom all the easier and it soon became apparent that this would be the theme that shaped the day. Smuffy traveled on, alternating between dragging the canoe over the gravel riverbed and hopping in for brief stretches of deeper water.

The miles and the hours crept along and Smuffy decided he’d better make contact with me. His attempts to radio the local amateur radio club tower with a distress call failed, just as they had two weeks earlier. He hadn’t really expected to get through, as he now found himself walled in by the high banks, cutting off the reception even more.

After dragging the canoe over another stretch of gravel, Smuffy stopped to study his map, sighing as he faced the fact that when sunset approached, he’d be nowhere near home. In fact, he’d be nowhere near the Missouri River. There seemed to be no choice but to push (or pull) on, so he grabbed the canoe and heaved. It moved a few feet begrudgingly and as he stepped forward to give another tug, Smuffy slipped off the edge of the world.

He bobbed to the surface, thankful for his life vest, for he had no idea how deep the pool had been. Perhaps I’ve neglected to mention that Captain Super Wonder Water Man can’t swim. Pulling the canoe into the deep water, Smuffy climed back in, hoping he’d at last reached deeper waters that would allow him to start up the motor and keep on going.

Alas, it was not to be. The river now toyed with Smuffy, and as he had no other choice, he alternated between dragging the canoe over the gravel river bottom and stepping off into unknown depths. Even Captain Super Wonder Water Man shows a certain degree of peevishness after a few hours of that sort of thing.

Smuffy admits to one weakness – he needs his glasses. Keeping them dry and attached to his face soon became a problem, for no sooner than he accomplished this, he’d plunge without warning into the depths again, clutching at them. Since he hadn’t a dry fiber left in any of this clothing, he began drying them with the only thing that hadn’t become water-logged – his map.

As darkness fell, the sudden impact of stepping off into the wet unknown began to take on even more of what is known as the surprise element. Smuffy removed the flashlight from his dry-box and as he studied the limp, soggy map, he scanned the banks and the blackened sky for some landmark that might give him a clue as to his location.

On he went, with the map growing more lifeless with each use as a towel and the flashlight growing dimmer by the minute. Smuffy counted each bridge as he passed beneath, hoping that the map would hold together long enough to show him one that might lead him to a town within walking distance.

By now, Smuffy knew I’d be more than just a little worried. He stopped at intervals to crawl through the weeds, roots and mud, scaling the riverbanks in hopes that, once on high ground, he’d get a signal and make a distress call. No matter how many times he dangled from the edge of the bank, gripping the vegetation in one hand and the radio device in the other, he never got one.

Around ten-thirty that night, the faint outline of another bridge came into view. If Smuffy’s counting had been accurate, this road would lead him into nearby Keytesville, where he might find a telephone. He tied up the canoe and began the steep climb up the mud bank. Nearing the top, a soft sucking sound and a light rustling through the underbrush informed him that one of his shoes had disappeared into the blackness. Undaunted, he crawled onto the road and, hampered a little by a slight limp and glursh-ing with every other step, headed toward what he hoped would be civilization.

After half an hour or so, a dim flicker appeared in the distance and Smuffy made his way toward what proved to be a farmhouse. He began to be concerned that some of his earlier luster had faded to the point where its residents might shy away when he knocked at their door. Reaching up, he ran his mud-caked hands through his hair and gave his wet clothes a futile brush-over. He hoped the flashlight, so dim now that he’d barely been able to identify the bridge on the map, might ease the shock. He knocked on the door and, holding the flashlight over his head, turned it on.

The man who opened the door beheld the vision in round-eyed silence.

“I’ve had some trouble,” Smuffy explained. “Could I use your phone to call for help?”

After taking a few seconds to survey Smuffy from muddy face to missing shoe, the man spoke.

“Wait right here.”

Soon the door re-opened and the man shoved a cordless phone into Smuffy’s hand before retreating again, indicating that he was both a man of compassion and intelligence.

One would assume that, at this juncture, Smuffy called me. He didn’t. He called Steve. Perhaps he weighed his options and rather than adding a round of hysterics to an already trying day, he’d be better off making immediate contact with his rescuer.

When Steve called around eleven-thirty to tell me that Smuffy was alive, relief flooded over me, along with the astonishment that he was still miles away, near Keytesville. Steve assured me that he’d leave immediately and have him home in a few more hours.

The fact that I hadn’t called the sheriff remains a mystery. I can only say that I’d spent the hours since Steve had first called to say he’d lost contact with Smuffy in a numb fog. Steve’s wife, Darlene, had called from time to time for an update, to console me and to marvel at why anyone in their right mind would do the things Smuffy does. I kept up a brave face for my daughter in between sudden fits of sheer panic. These alternated with a strange sense of peace that kept whispering in my spirit, Give him time…Give him time…

I look back now and consider that I must have slipped into some form of shock. Not calling the sheriff had to be just about the dumbest thing I ever did.

Once Smuffy had given Steve directions to the bridge and given the phone back to the poor frightened souls inside the farmhouse, he headed back down the road to his canoe. That’s when the thunderstorm hit.

The thunder, lightning and rain had reached fever pitch as Smuffy returned to his canoe. He pulled it under the bridge, but opted against sitting in the metal canoe just in case God felt that the day’s events hadn’t proven sufficient at getting His message across.

I can’t recall much about the scene that unfolded when Smuffy rolled in at two-thirty the next morning. It went past in a blur of tears, exhaustion, gratitude and “never agains”.  I do remember the poison ivy that followed.  All Smuffy’s attempts to send distress signals, wrestle the canoe down the bank and climb out of the river to reach a phone had sent him crawling through endless patches of the stuff, multiplying the dandy rash he’d gotten after the day of the boat wreck.  He spent the next couple of weeks slathered in calamine, mummified in gauze and oozing like a jelly-filled doughnut.

Poor Darlene – the wreck and its aftermath taxed her to her limits and she hasn’t been in a boat with Smuffy since. All she and Steve ever got out of the whole deal were two lovely hand-crafted Christmas tree ornaments that year made from fragments of the boat’s windshield that remind them, “I Survived the Wreck of ‘97”.

For once in his life, Smuffy had had his fill of water for a while. Thankfully, he had a boat to repair and a motor to dry out, so it would be a while before he could embark on his favorite pastime. Meanwhile he returned to one of his other passions and dragged out his model airplanes. I felt a sense of relief at seeing him engaged in something a little tamer.

Smuffy in Flight www.midweststoryteller.com

I must have forgotten that when it comes to Smuffy, even a game of pick-up sticks can turn ugly.

Smuffy made it back from flying his planes in one piece, but each time he returned, I made a point to count his fingers and toes, remembering a few years back to a peaceful Saturday that took an abrupt turn when Smuffy returned early.

Entering through the basement, he dashed up the steps and into the bathroom. I didn’t give it much thought other than to assume that he’d found himself in sudden need of a little privacy. Soon, however, he called out a strange instruction.

“Bring me a roll of paper towels!”

“Paper towels?” I asked, reaching for the roll.

“Paper towels! And hurry!”

“Here they are,” I answered as I approached the closed door.

It opened a few inches and the towels disappeared inside before the door clicked shut again.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Nothing. Get me a roll of black electrical tape.”

“Black electrical… What are you doing?”

“Just get it!”

I ran to the basement for the tape, resolving that I would have to assert my personality to keep some unpleasant form of male nonsense from getting out of control. I brought the tape back to the door and, like the towels, it whizzed out of my fingers and the door shut again.

I didn’t have to be Perry Mason to conclude that the witness displayed evasiveness. I demanded to be told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Smuffy finally admitted to having hurt his hand.

“How? And how bad?” I asked, placing my ear to the door.

“I stuck it in the airplane propeller.”

What? Let me see.”

Love is the only explanation for my utterance of those awful words. Seeing was the last thing I wanted. I cringe when someone picks at the sticky tab of their band-aid. I don’t look at bloody wounds unless one of my loved ones needs me and no one else is there to take over the situation. Then, some inexplicable strength, along with rapid heart rate and a certain degree of clamminess, comes over me.

After more resistance on Smuffy’s part and more insistence on mine, he let me in. I took a deep breath and held it as he pulled away the massive wad of paper towels.

My knees buckled. I turned my head away. This was beyond anything I could handle. I stepped back into the hall.

“You need to go to the emergency room.”

“It’ll be all right. I just need to get it to stop bleeding and get it bandaged up.”

“It’s not going to stop bleeding. You need stitches – a lot of stitches.”

“I don’t need the hospital!”

The conversation continued along these lines until I walked away, muttering a prayer that I might say something that would get through to Smuffy. I returned to the bloody scene. I’d seen those fingers and they’d been filleted from the bones.

“What are you going to do if you do this yourself and it doesn’t heal up right and you can’t use your hand and then you can’t work?”

Smuffy stood silent. So did I, determined to let my words soak in. After a few moments of pondering and perhaps weakened by additional blood loss, Smuffy caved.

“Let’s go to the emergency room.”

Another difference of opinion sprang up when we got to the car and, yes, Smuffy drove.

They wouldn’t let me in the room when they started working on Smuffy. He, of course, displayed a keen interest in the whole procedure. He took note that the doctor discarded certain bits and kept others. He admitted to getting bored in his efforts to count stitches and giving up once the number passed fifty.

I sat in the waiting room, wondering if he might be better off in the river – until I remembered that boats had propellers, too.

We took poor Smuffy home and did our best to nurse him back to health.  Again, he made it difficult for us to cozy up to him and dole out the sympathy.  He’d been flying his planes in another area riddled with – uh-huh – poison ivy!

He made pathetic sight, our little invalid, propped in his chair – stitched, wrapped and trying not to scratch with the only hand he had available. Since these situations offer the opportunity to either laugh or cry – we laughed. We laughed a lot!

Poor Smuffy www.midweststoryteller.com

That’s my Smuffy. Thankfully, he has full use of his hand and no scarring. He’s gone on to more adventures and you’ll find them here at Midwest Storyteller.

Subscribe so you don’t miss one!

That reminds me – I don’t think I ever told you about the Big Boat Wreck of ’78. Yep – don’t let that sweet, innocent face fool you – good ‘ol Steve was around for that one, too!.

Steve Back in the Day www.midweststoryteller.com

You might want to start at the beginning of my Life With Smuffy and read about our Smokin’ Hot Honeymoon. For sheer entertainment, you’ll want to see how Smuffy Takes the Cure.

Comments? I’d love to hear from you. Just scroll back up and click on “Leave a Comment” under the title of this post. On a mobile device, this may appear all the way to the bottom of the post.

Life with Smuffy (Episode 3): “That Sinking Feeling” (or, “The Wreck of ’97”)

For all the dads out there and for all those who are remembering one or honoring one this Father’s Day, I dedicate this story to you. Father’s Day weekend, 1997, has become one of those landmarks in our family history – retold often with laughter and at times, a shudder.  You might want to buckle up your life vest before going any further.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I can’t keep an eye on Smuffy every second. At first, I wished I could. However, it didn’t take me long to realize that in order to avoid ulcers and insanity, I would have to leave him to his guardian angels and pretend he wasn’t really out somewhere trying to do himself in. I did ask that a few more be assigned to him, just so I could sleep at night.

Smuffy the Outdoorsman www.midweststoryteller.com

An outdoorsman and adventure lover, Smuffy is never happier than when immersing himself in his greatest passion water! It doesn’t seem to matter how much and what kind. He’ll take anything from a long soak in the tub to a romp in the ocean. Inside the man lies the spirit of Thor Heyerdahl and the longing to head out for Kon-Tiki on a raft. For the record: This girl won’t be going along.

I can’t even begin to describe what comes over Smuffy at the sight of a body of water. While in a motor vehicle, he’ll putz along, never exceeding the speed limit. When making financial decisions, he’s Mr. Belt & Suspenders all the way. The shimmering vision of water, however, sucks him in as though he were Clark Kent entering a phone booth. Within seconds, he’s transformed into Captain Super Wonder Water Man. At least, he thinks he is.  At the top of Smuffy’s bucket list – canoeing every river in our state!

Big Piney Canoe www.midweststoryteller.com

More than once, Smuffy’s wet ‘n wild side has scared the pants off normal folks. It got so that grown men would approach me after Smuffy had invited them to go canoeing or boating and, with a tremor in their voices, ask me if I intended to go along. You might be puzzling at their reasons for such behavior. I wondered at first myself. However, I soon realized that people considered my presence their life insurance policy! They assumed that, if accompanied by the woman he’d have to live with in the ugly aftermath of one of his crazed adventures, Captain Super Wonder Water Man might tame things down a bit rather than endure a lifetime of “I told you so’s”.

This proved to be the case. Though it taxed my good nature to its limit, I learned how to dish out preliminary fire and brimstone sermons that let him know that, if he valued his future happiness, he’d better bring me (and everybody else) back home alive, dry and in possession of all their body parts and belongings. Even so, water activities with Smuffy still left me in a state of exhaustion, for the moment he beheld the water’s rippling surface, he needed restraint. Only by a folding of the arms and a piercing glare from my wifely stink-eye, administered every thirty minutes or so, did any of us return in one piece. Even then, you could hear the smacking of lips as Smuffy’s passengers, once back on shore, fell to their knees and kissed the dry ground.

He earned a reputation, and rightly so. Through the years, I’ve often wondered how many people, upon watching the nightly news and hearing of some boating disaster, leaped to the assumption that Smuffy must have had a hand in it. Even carefree children developed a wisdom beyond their years and began to avoid Captain Super Wonder Water Man.

Once, after we’d flipped over a log and capsized in a southern Missouri river, I rose to the surface and began the search for my young daughter. As her life jacket brought her up, bobbing and spitting, I could see the panic in her eyes. I tried to propel myself faster than the current so that I could grab her arm and I called out.

“I’m coming. Mommy’s coming!”

Smuffy screamed at me from upstream. “Don’t worry about anything else! Just grab her before she gets away. I’ll get everything else!”

I managed to get a grip on my little girl. She clung to me, trembling.

“Daddy! Daddy! Where’s Daddy?”

“He’ll be here soon. He’s trying to get our canoe and all our stuff.”

“I want my daddy! I want my daddy!”

I looked around. We’d planned for a big day and most of our plans were floating downstream faster than Smuffy could collect them. First things first, he went after the canoe. While he wrestled it into an upright position, its contents drifted downstream. Our cooler, along with a tool-box, dry-box, towels, bags of chips and everything else that had spelled out F-U-N earlier in the day scattered like livestock with the gate left open.

Smuffy, hearing the hysterics, kept calling out for me to keep a firm grip on the most important prize while he retrieved everything else.

“Daddy! Daddy! Where’s my daddy?”

Her soggy, blonde braid whipped from side to side as my precious girl searched the river.

“There he is,” I pointed. “See? Daddy’s fine. He’ll be here in a minute, just as soon as he gets all of our stuff back. See? Daddy’s all right.”

The big, blue eyes narrowed as they honed in on her target.

“I want my daddy so I can smack him!”

Yes, it seemed the river had washed the glamour right off Captain Super Wonder Water Man even in the eyes of his devoted daughter. Though I refrained from saying so, I had somewhat of an urge to smack Smuffy myself.

As though summoned by our prayers, several members of the Gasconade River Boating Club happened along and fished the female members of our party out of the river.

Still, to this day, I can’t believe I let her go!

Girl and Her Captain www.midweststoryteller.com

Even the hard-core adventurous types began to eye Smuffy with caution when he suggested they join him for a day at the lake or a trip to the river. Other than a couple of die-hard old water buddies, people just didn’t seem to like the idea of spending the day with a man who, upon reaching a fork in the river, cupped a hand behind his ear and, with a dangerous gleam in his eye, steered them straight toward the sound of whitewater.

One such faithful friend was Steve. More than likely, Steve figured that if Smuffy hadn’t managed to kill him way back in their college days, he had a pretty good chance of survival. Steve’s wife, Darlene, lacked a great deal of her husbands confidence. Her own fear of water, combined with a multiple encounters with Captain Super Wonder Water Man, had made her wary (if we care to make the understatement of the century).

What Smuffy needed was a cure, but the thought of what that might entail seemed unthinkable. Effective cures for Smuffy seem to burst on the scene with a great deal of drama. You can check out a prime example of that here.

The circumstances of life offered a prime opportunity for a cure on Father’s Day weekend of 1997 and now, more than twenty years later, you have the whole story.

On that beautiful Saturday morning, Smuffy and Steve left for a grand day of adventure which would take them on three different rivers. The gas tanks were full and so were the coolers in preparation for a steak dinner cooked over an open fire. Once they’d scouted out all the good spots on the trip upstream, they’d turn back toward home and dine at an ideal location.

Overflowing River www.midweststoryteller.com

High water only added to Smuffy’s excitement. He told me I needn’t worry about submerged logs and other snags that might cause danger out on the river. Prolonged and heavy rains had raised the river level far above all such debris and would allow them to take the boat full throttle all the way.

Uh-huh. I offered him the stink-eye and, no, he didn’t notice. Like a little boy with a new toy, he kissed me good-bye and said he’d be home before dark. Uh-huh.

They looked cute, I had to admit. Smuffy had restored a 1963 Studebaker Champ pickup truck and a 1957 wood runabout and nearly got a cramps from returning all the thumbs-ups and waves he got when he took that snazzy set out together.

Vintage Wood Boat www.midweststoryteller.com

The girls stayed behind. More children had entered into the dynamics of the thing and to Darlene and me, it seemed only logical to guarantee them at least one surviving parent.

I spent the day doing what I usually did when Smuffy hit the water. I tried not to think about it. Besides, I had a little girl to take care of and housework to do and a few unfinished projects.

At dusk, I began to get a little concerned about Darlene, knowing that her head must now be filling with visions of Titanic-like proportions. I decided to grab some leftover cake and go over to her house, hoping to keep her mind occupied and show her that there was no need to worry. Did I mention that her husband was out with Captain Super Wonder Water Man?

There comes a time of night when, even though their presence provides a welcome distraction, children must be put to bed. Though I hated to leave Darlene in a quiet house with nothing but her terrifying imaginations to keep her company, the cake and conversation ran out and I took my young one home.

Then, I sat. Uttering a prayer or two during commercials, I watched TV and waited. Around eleven o’clock, I began to vacillate between panic-inducing visions and murderous plots. You see, Smuffy had the ability to radio the local amateur radio club tower and make a distress call, but had he done so, they would have put him through to me. Either something had happened or he assumed I shouldn’t be worried. Like I said panic, then murder.

The sheriff! I could call the sheriff! I hesitated on the grounds that it might make Smuffy mad at me. Then, I reasoned that if he didn’t really need the sheriff, he deserved to be every bit as upset as his wife. I pondered as to what course law enforcement might take. Would they tell me that I had to wait a certain number of hours before he could be classified as “missing”? Did they even own a boat? Now, I pondered the prospect of adding of some type of water patrol to the mix. Oh, dear! Would they even know how or where to look?

I knew what I really needed. I needed someone every bit as prone to irrational acts of self-destruction as Smuffy somebody dumb enough to throw themselves into the river in the black of night and not come back without Smuffy and Steve. I called Smuffy’s brother.

Smuffy's Brother www.midweststoryteller.com

He took the eleven-thirty call with a great degree of calm, I thought. He did, however, make a comment or two about the space between his younger brother’s ears before praying with me and promising to launch himself into the deep if the boys didn’t return within the hour.

As midnight approached, the phone rang. Smuffy assured me that while there had been an accident, he and Steve were alive and well and headed home and he would tell me all about it when he arrived.

After letting his brother know that he didn’t have to go diving after dark, I called Darlene and we, to put it mildly, spent a few moments sharing similar views on husbands, boating and idiocy before going to bed to wait for the return and the explanation.

In the middle of all this, the calendar rolled over to a new day and it was a relief to know that when our children woke up on Father’s Day, we’d be able to tell them they still had dads!

Around 1:30 a.m., after falling asleep with all the times Smuffy had gone wild on water and dragged in late dancing in my head, I awakened to the sound of the key in the lock. I issued myself a quick reminder that there had been an accident and that accidents are, in fact, accidental, and that I needed to be nice.

One look at Smuffy told me that he’d been through the wringer. Soaked to the skin and covered with mud, his face showed not only exhaustion, but a numb form of shock.

“I thought I killed Steve,” he muttered. “I thought I killed him.”

Opening the refrigerator, he shoved a few bites of whatever he could find into his mouth, his face registering that it tasted similar to ashes. He wobbled off to the tub to scrub off the river, a great deal of its banks and a the distinct smell of fish and other forms of organic matter in various stages of decomposition.

Later in the day, Darlene told me that Steve had arrived in worse condition, which had caused her compassionate nature to rise to the surface and subdue all her previous plans to express herself.

Even I, listening to Smuffy as he fluctuated between naps and sudden bursts of recall, began to think there may be no need to point out the obvious. I went outside to have a look at the boat.

It looked worse than the boys. Once a gem, it’s shattered windshield and dangling steering cables caught the eye right away. A few good-sized holes in it’s beautiful wood glared at me.

I believe it was the poet Burns who observed that the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley. Smuffy’s and Steve’s plans couldn’t have ganged any further aft if they’d tried.

They’d started up the Missouri River at top speed, for as Smuffy had predicted, recent rains had raised it many feet above any snags that may have otherwise marred their course. Feeling that the day was young and they were only getting started, they cruised up another tributary and then another, all the while scouting for that perfect sandy beach where they would stop for steaks over the fire and whatever manly sides dishes they’d packed to round out their meal.

When, at last, they felt they’d gone as far from home as they dare, the boys turned the boat around. With appetites sharpened by a day on the water, they hurried on to their supper destination with fleeting memories that somewhere, hours ago, they’d promised a couple of women they’d be home by dark.

The river seemed different now. While they flew over the surface because, after all, that is how fast the motor will make the boat go, Smuffy studied the banks. He began to think that perhaps the water level might be dropping, but he didn’t get to entertain the notion for long.

While the boat skimmed over the huge log with no problem, the submerged parts of the motor did not. The steering cables, jerked free from their happy homes, dangled uselessly and the boat veered toward shore. Smuffy cut the engine, offered up a quick prayer of thanksgiving for a huge brush pile that he hoped might cushion the blow, and waited for impact.

Collecting himself afterward, he turned to Steve, who didn’t seem to be there. Looking down toward the soft sounds of gurgling and moaning that came from the bottom of the boat, he found Steve lying where a tree limb had knocked him after crashing through the windshield. The wound where it had met Steve’s forehead looked to be a nasty one.

“Steve!” Smuffy yelled. “Steve! Can you hear me?”

The gurgling and moaning went on for a bit before Steve managed words.

“Where am I?”

You tell me where you are!” Smuffy demanded.

Continual questioning at last proved that Steve could not only ascertain where he was, but who he was. He was even able to identify the one who had dragged him along on this binge – Captain Super Wonder Water Man.

Once able to take his eyes off his long-time friend, Smuffy looked around in hopes of discovering minimal damage to the boat. The river, now an inch from the rim, seemed to be demanding his immediate attention. He needed Steve now.

“We’re sinking!  I’ll get the excess weight out of the boat and you start bailing!”

The boat held an abundance of food and even a spare boat motor should they have trouble, but Smuffy hadn’t planned for this. In a panic, he handed Steve the lid off the cooler and Steve took the unwieldy thing and started bailing.

Smuffy looked at his spare motor – his precious spare motor. A water-loving man can never have too many boat motors. Taking a deep breath, Smuffy mustered up his physical and emotional strength, hoisted it and chucked it overboard. Now, the logical thing to do was to get the boat moving forward to help keep some of the water from coming in the holes and head home as fast as possible before Steve’s arms wore out.

Realizing that the boat would be at the bottom of the river in the time it took to reattach the steering cables, Smuffy started up the motor and, throwing his arms around it, steered it with a hug. They continued all the way down three rivers, soon finding themselves in total darkness, but grateful that river debris began to collect in the holes in the boat, slowing down the intake of water. Eventually, this enabled them to pause for a moment or two at a time and while Steve kept bailing, Smuffy released his grip on the motor and tried to make distress calls. All but the last of these proved unsuccessful, even though Smuffy climbed up through the underbrush along the riverbanks in the dark, attempting to get a better signal. At last, they left the Missouri River, turned up yet another and arrived at the boat landing.

As I listened to Smuffy’s tale, I fluctuated between wanting to hug him tighter than he’d hugged that boat motor and wanting to throw him onto the floor and sit on him until he promised never to use his super-powers again. After all, as we could plainly see, submerged logs equaled kryptonite. I wandered around the house, checking the clock often, wondering just how long I was required to keep up this “nice” bit.

I soon began to think drastic measures might not be necessary. As he sank into his recliner and spent Father’s Day (and several days afterward) muttering to himself, I thought Smuffy might have taken the cure. Over and over, I heard things like, “I thought I’d killed Steve”, “What was I going to tell Darlene?”, “I never want to go in a boat again as long as I live,” and “I’ll just fix it up and sell it.”

My sense of relief was three-fold. I had Smuffy home, safe and sound. He hadn’t killed Steve and he had learned his lesson – no more of these crazy water adventures.

The following week passed, quiet and uneventful. Then, Smuffy began muttering again. I couldn’t believe my ears.

“I think I know where that motor is.,” he said, pausing to scratch some poison ivy that had sprouted along his arms and legs.

“What?”

“The spare motor that I threw overboard. I know exactly where I dropped it. I’ll bet I could find it.”

I tried to be gentle. After all, people in shock do talk gibberish sometimes. “But it’s at the bottom of the river, Dear. It’s ruined!”

“I’ve dried motors out before.”

“But you don’t have a boat to go get it with,” I pointed out. “It’s sitting in the driveway, full of holes.”

“I could take the canoe…”

“What!”

“It wouldn’t take that long – I know right where it is.  Do we have any calamine lotion and some gauze?  I must have crawled through a field of  poison ivy when I climbed up the bank all those times to try and call you.”

I was not softened by this, despite the cute factor.

The Cute Factor www.midweststoryteller.com

“There’s no way you are ever going out on water alone again. I can’t stand the strain. The only person silly enough to go with you is someone who’s had the sense knocked into him and I have a funny feeling Darlene will put her foot down at the slightest mention of it.”

“I know right where it is…”

“Stop it!”

“Steve wouldn’t have to go on the water. All he’d have to do is just drive me up to the river access, just ahead of where I dropped the motor, then I’ll get the motor and come on home in the canoe!”

“No! That’s miles and miles back home. No!”

“If we start out early, there’s no way I wouldn’t be home by dark.”

“No! No! No!”

I repeated this over and over for a solid week, adding emphasis to it with the stinkiest stink-eye I possessed, arms crossed while snorting air through my nostrils like an irate bull, flinging my hands into the air, leaving the room in a huff and if I remember correctly, slamming a few doors.

Saturday rolled around and as Smuffy opened the door to climb in to his truck, I stood at the door hoping my icy stare, aimed up and down his spine, would paralyze him into submission.

“Dark!” I yelled.

“I’ll be home by dark for sure!”

“Because at dark-thirty, I’m calling the sheriff and I mean it!”

“That wouldn’t do any good. What do you think they’re gonna do?”

“It might not do any good, but it’ll put your name in paper! Something has got to be the cure for this type of insanity!”

I watched him give himself a thorough scratching before climbing into his truck.  I’m not the kind of woman who thinks he got what he deserved, but I am the kind of woman who has the thought go through her mind like a speeding motorboat before she can help herself.

Smuffy rolled out of the driveway on his way to pick up Steve. I heaved a sigh, waited a decent interval and called Darlene.

And that, dear readers, is only the beginning of it.

Subscribe!   Don’t miss Part II of “Life with Smuffy (Episode 4): That Sinking Feeling Returns” (or, “Shoeless, Clueless and as Wet as it Gets”)

Comments? I’d love to hear from you. (As you can see, this girl needs all the support she can get!) Just scroll back up and click on “Leave a Comment” under the title of this post. On a mobile device, this may appear all the way to the bottom of the river – I mean post!

Have a happy, fun and SAFE Father’s Day weekend!

I think I need a little time out before telling you the rest of this story.

While you wait, be sure to check out my Smokin’ Hot Honeymoon with Smuffy!

Life With Smuffy: (Episode 2) “Smuffy Takes the Cure” (or, “Think You’re Invincible?…Don’t Bet on It!”)

It’s doubtful that anyone, upon entering into a lifelong commitment, realizes what they’re getting themselves into. Marriage certainly remains the number one eye opener of all time.

Lacking this foreknowledge, and madly in love, I married Smuffy and discovered that I’d entered a contest. No – more like a tournament.

I’d come from a large farm family where the girls outnumbered the boys 6 to 1.  We had our issues – that’s for sure – but I don’t remember an overly competitive spirit amongst the siblings. It may have been there, but I didn’t pick up on it.

That thing America thrives on – competition – sped right past me and I didn’t even care. I hated team sports and shrugged off people who announced that they were going to out-do me academically. My attitude was pretty much, “Knock yourself out, Honey!”

For Smuffy, raised in a household full of boys, life had been one grand rivalry after another as each tried to prove whatever it is they were trying to prove. See, I still haven’t figured it out! But, boys will be boys, I suppose.

Boys Will Be Boys www.midweststoryteller.com

I shrank from participating, but Smuffy thought all I needed was a little coaxing. And, with those puppy-dog brown eyes of his, he lured me into all sorts of silly wagers – each one a contest, championship, best two out of three, winner take all.

Though it seemed irrelevant to me which one of us could spit over a log or hit a tree branch with a rock with greater accuracy, Smuffy thrived on it. I preferred, as one of my favorite P. G. Wodehouse characters once put it, “to exist beautifully”, preferably with a good book, cup of hot chocolate and a cat in my lap. I love kitties. I adored Smuffy, and I had to admit that, though it wasn’t my cup of tea, Smuffy was cute when lost in one of his fits of boyish playfulness.

Uninterested in monetary wagers, Smuffy preferred to invent stunts for the losers to perform. He liked to drag others into the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. Shortly after we married, Smuffy made a bet in a pitch game we were playing with another couple. Intoxicated with the smell of victory, Smuffy strutted his stuff, promising that he and his surprised partner would, should the girls rebound from their massive losses and win, remove their shoes and socks, roll their pants up past their knees and run all the way around the house in the snow.

The temperature – in the teens. The house – large. The snow – deep.

By this time, Smuffy’s over-confidence had made me a trifle peeved. Since the girls didn’t have to reciprocate if they lost, I gave him “the look”, which, by the way, he didn’t recognize, and said, “You’re on!”

After we won, I felt a little sorry for Smuffy’s partner. Recovering from a nasty virus of some sort, he looked as though he wanted to grab Smuffy by the neck and throttle his bright idea right out of him.

What Goes Around Comes Around www.midweststoryteller.com

I stood outside, monitoring their progress as they mushed around the house with a flashlight. Surely this would cure him!

Not a chance! No matter what the activity, Smuffy could think of a way to turn it into a contest. We couldn’t just play Monopoly. We played Killer Monopoly. I came to the point where I took amusement by letting other players sit rent free on my properties “just because they were my friends”. Then, I’d charge him full price for being “not nice”.

Smuffy did, at times, end up losing. He grew adept at slithering out of the consequences of his outrageous bets by careful wording. He always seemed to escape through some tiny loophole or technicality when I folded my arms and demanded payment.

Not caring whether I won or lost, I had relaxation on my side when Smuffy lured me into competition. It came in handy.

One day, he came home with a bow and arrows. He spent the whole weekend practicing with his new toy, perfecting his aim and technique. Sure enough, when I ventured outside, Smuffy wanted me to try it, betting, of course, that I couldn’t hit a rotten watermelon sitting at the far edge of our garden. He showed me how to hold the thing and draw back the bow. I nailed the watermelon with a satisfying foomph. Two more bets and two foomphs later, Smuffy dismissed me, saying he suffered from a tired arm. The following weekend, we acted out a similar scenario. The bow and arrows disappeared after that.

I began to think my sweetie needed help. An intervention! Surely there must be a cure!

Call 1-800-BETCURE www.midweststoryteller.com

One winter, a stray cat arrived. I admit to being a cat magnet. I love them and they love me. I think, like hobos, they must mark my house, labeling me as a soft touch. It takes all the fortitude at my disposal to avoid petting them and feeding them. I know what will happen if I do. I am firm. I am resolved – 99.9% of the time.

We called this cat Old Yeller. He was yellow. He was old, at least in experience. With a shaggy and unkempt coat, he moved his massive bulk along with fearsome purpose, as though he saw all and heard all with the one eye that hadn’t been scratched out and the one ear that hadn’t been bitten off. We never took pictures of Old Yeller. Why would you? He looked something like this –

Old Yeller Cat www.midweststoryteller.com

Smuffy preferred to chuck rocks at Old Yeller in hopes of running him off. I did my best to ignore him. Cat lover or not, he just didn’t fall into the category of “snuggly” as far as I was concerned. He looked like he’d seen a thing or two and had mangled both of them. He hung around through cold weather and into spring.

One weekend, as the weather warmed and Smuffy tackled his first outdoor project, Old Yeller joined him in the back yard. Positioning himself with an air of authority on the picnic table, he snarled and hissed at Smuffy each time he moved anywhere near him. One. Tough. Cat.

Later in the afternoon, I went out for a little sunshine. Smuffy greeted me, gesturing toward Old Yeller.

I know you’re always saying how much cats like you, but I’ll bet this is one cat that wouldn’t let you pet him. That’s about the meanest cat I’ve ever come across.”

Oh, I don’t know,” I shrugged with nonchalance. “He might not be so mean to someone he really liked.”

Smuffy’s eyebrows shot up. “You gotta be kidding me! You seriously think you can pet that cat?” He waved an arm toward Old Yeller, who took it as an act of war and responded with hair-raising yowls of feline profanity. “I’ll bet you can’t!”

I paused, basking in a wave of inspiration. Had Old Yeller come along as Smuffy’s intervention?

I maintained my casual attitude. “Oh, I don’t know…I’ll bet I could. Cats really do like me, you know. What’ll you bet me?”

Smuffy named off a couple of things and I wrinkled my nose at him, poo-pooing them as penny ante. If he wanted me to endanger myself by even approaching Old Yeller, he would have to come up with something better.

I watched as my willingness, combined with indifference, sparked Smuffy’s competitive fires. He wanted to win. He had to win.

That cat is wild! I don’t think anybody’s ever petted him. If you can pet that cat, I’ll…I’ll…”

You’ll what? Remember, kitties like me,” I smiled.

I had him hooked. I waited. And, yes, Smuffy went over the edge.

If you can walk up to that cat and get him to let you pet him, I will personally, right now, walk over to the edge of this yard, face the neighbors, pull my pants down around my ankles and sing, ‘The Star-spangled Banner’ for all to hear!”

Promise to sing nice and loud?”

Nice and loud.”

What about your underpants?”

Huh?”

It’s really not fair if you don’t pull down your underpants.”

Smuffy hesitated. On a scale of 1-10, Smuffy’s modesty quotient is somewhere around 42. He’d already wagered a good deal of his decency. Soon, I saw that my show of confidence had only stoked his own.

Okay. My underpants, too.”

No cheating? No technicalities?”

No cheating.”

If you forget the words to the song, I’ll help you along.”

Arms folded across his chest, Smuffy watched me approach Old Yeller, warning me all the way that I’d better be careful, lest I draw back a stub.

I chose the cooing method. Slowly advancing, I called Old Yeller every precious pet name that came to mind. After a gentle stroke on the back of his head, I gave his spine a tickle before massaging his jowls. He purred in approval.

Soon, Old Yeller decided he’d had enough for a first encounter and jumped off the picnic table.

I smiled at Smuffy. “Your turn.”

How did you do that?”

Like I’ve always told you – kitties like me.”

Smuffy pled for mercy, exhausting every excuse at his disposal before going to the south edge of the lawn and getting down to business. I remained firm. Strong. Determined. It felt good – this new sense of power.

I had only one regret. Smuffy happened to be wearing the longest-tailed shirt he owned. I thought it took the polish off the performance and I said so. Again, technicalities prevailed as he informed me that raising the shirt had, at no time, come into discussion when the bet went down.

My little technicality hadn’t come into discussion either. I saved it till after we’d gotten past “the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

Very nice,” I said, releasing my pent-up giggles. “From now on, I’m only going to agree to a bet if the stakes are high and I know I’m going to win. Remember, you could end up singing this same song on the front steps of the theater on Main Street – without the shirt!”

Waggling a cautionary finger at him, I turned and started for the house.

It was only a fluke,” he called after me. “I don’t know why that cat let you pet him, but I’ll bet you couldn’t do it again!”

Oh, it’s no fluke,” I called back, turning to savor the moment. “And I wouldn’t bet on it again if I were you. I’ve been feeding that cat hot dogs… for… the… last… three… days!

Random Acts of Kindness www.midweststoryteller.com

Now, I can’t keep track of Smuffy every minute, you know. He may get into an occasional competitive wager with someone else now and again, but somehow he’s lost the urge to drag me into it.

Smuffy has taken the cure! Whether or not he falls off the wagon remains to be seen. If it happens, I’ll put down my hot chocolate, shove in a bookmark and be there to chronicle the event.

Stay tuned…

SUBSCRIBE at the right side bar or on the CONTACT ME page so you don’t miss it.

Life With Smuffy: (Episode 1) “The Smokin’-Hot Honeymoon” (or, Where There’s Smoke, There Isn’t Always a Fireman)

Throughout history, people have fallen in love and gotten married without much to live on other than their love for each other. With Smuffy and me, this was certainly the case. We’d saved and budgeted for the big day.

Marrying Smuffy

Midwest winters are unpredictable things. For our December wedding, the weather warmed to spring-like conditions, emboldening our invited guests. Even the elderly aunts and uncles, who would have normally found the winding country black-top roads intimidating, took a look at the forecast and said, “Why not?” They packed the tiny country church to its full capacity – a thing it hadn’t seen in years.

Country Church

Smuffy and I had done a pretty good job at keeping our little secret. Having spent every dime on the wedding and our first month’s rent and utilities, we couldn’t afford a honeymoon. I’d started a new job as well and needed to earn some vacation time. Besides, if you don’t have enough cash to get you out of the Midwest in winter, why bother? We postponed the trip until May. We’d sneak back to our new home late on our wedding night and spend our few precious days secluded from the rest of the world. Low key – that’s the word I’m looking for – we’d just keep it low key and not draw any attention to ourselves. The last thing newlyweds need is a flock of well-meaning people stopping by.

And stop by they would have, if they’d wanted to reach us, because Smuffy and I didn’t have a phone! Let your mind wander back, my friends, to the good ‘ole days before cell phones. Installing a phone seemed just another expense that might as well be postponed for a month or two until we got settled.

And then it hit. We woke up to our first full day of married life to find our honeymoon cottage, and the car we’d concealed by driving it up into the yard by the back door, buried in deep snow. I misspeak when I refer to our rented country place as a cottage. We closed off most of the cavernous house and lived in three rooms. It didn’t help much. My shampoo froze in the bottle.

And then it hit. Freezing rain on top of the snow hardened it into a crust, turning the outside world into a skating rink.

And then it hit. Another deep snow fell. Enveloped in a winter wonderland, we were trapped, but we didn’t care. Except, how were we ever going to get the car out of the back yard?

Brutally Beautiful Snowstorm

Content to spend the snowy days making my house a home, I fluttered around, admiring and rearranging all the things I’d gotten as shower gifts. My ivory chantilly lace wedding gown hung on a hook over a door in the bedroom, it’s chapel-length veil cascading down over it. I must have touched it every time I passed near enough to do so. So lovely! Soon, I’d take it to be sealed away for future generations, but for now it made me feel like a beautiful bride every time I looked at it.

We’d been told that the house had new insulation. I became convinced that if this were true, it must still be stored in the barn. Wind howled through the place day and night. Interior doors of the house moved freely in the breeze if not securely latched. We kept the wood stove going strong, along with the furnace, which sucked fuel from a big tank outside. Filling it would have cost as much as three or four months rent, so we only had the man put an inch or so in the bottom of it.

After a few days, the snowplows cleared the road past our house and Smuffy began trying to get the car out of the back yard. We envisioned our landlords, who shared our driveway, watching from their windows in dismay at the deep ruts Smuffy carved before accomplishing his goal.

Smuffy woke me on our fourth day as man and wife with the announcement that the world had thawed to the point where we might take an outing. I started putting myself together and he went off to do whatever two or three things guys must do before they settle down to wait on females. He reappeared a few moments later.

“Do you smell smoke?” he asked.

“No,” I answered as I riffled through the drawer for clothes. “I don’t smell anything.”

Smuffy disappeared. I slipped into my outfit and started accessorizing. He returned.

“Are you sure you don’t smell smoke? I smell smoke.”

“No, I don’t smell a thing.” I turned to face him. “Are you sure…” I froze in place. “You…You’re standing in it!”

“What?”

Light, streaming through the windows, reflected off every particle. Smuffy stood in the bedroom doorway, enveloped in the fog.

“It’s all around you. You’re surrounded by smoke!”

We turned in every direction, searching for the source. Smuffy ran off to check the damper on the stove. He made a tour of the house, coming back to report that there were no signs of smoke anywhere else.

Then, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye. The house’s old fireplaces had been sealed over years ago. Wallpaper, matching the rest of the room, now covered the areas that formerly housed cozy fires. The bedroom fireplace, however, seemed to be in a reminiscing mood. The center of the wallpapered panel darkened to a toasty brown before turning black and curling away. Though I didn’t actually hear the “Bonanza” theme as I pointed and stared, the resemblance was striking. Flames licked through the growing hole and I yelled for Smuffy.

Your House is on Fire

After a brief and panicky discussion on the proper course of action, Smuffy, still in his bedroom slippers, ordered me to stay put while he called the fire department. He sailed out the front door, down the icy steps and kept on sailing. Landing on his backside, he sank through the top layer of snow and scooted across the encrusted front lawn toward the driveway, leaving one slipper behind. The other, launched through the air, landed some distance away.

I watched from the window, feeling helpless. Then, having always thought how silly women seemed in movies when they stood by clutching their throats while disaster unfolded, I took action. I ran for the wedding gown, tossing it in the center of the bed along with my purse, my jewelry box and a few keepsakes. Running around the bed, I gathered the corners of the quilt up over my treasures. Smuffy’s mother’s handmade quilt would survive, along with my gown, if I had to grab all four corners and make a run for it.

Then, I waited. Smuffy arrived, breathless, to report that though the landlords weren’t home, they’d left the back door unlocked, providing access to the phone. The relief that he hadn’t had to break their window was somewhat offset by the fact that, not being able to find their phone book, he’d completely ransacked the place. He’d found it, though, and made the call. The rural volunteer fire department was on the way.

We decided to watch and wait until the fire truck came with plenty of water and high-pressure hoses. Tampering with the burning hole might feed the flames additional oxygen and reduce the house to ashes before help arrived.

Smuffy opened the windows and insisted that I get out of the smoky bedroom, promising to give me plenty of notice in case I had to escape with my valuables. I went into the living room and sat down, watching him pace in and out of the bedroom. He looked peeved.

“They certainly aren’t very professional,” he snapped.

“Why? What happened?”

“Well, for one thing, when I called, the guy just says, ‘Hello?’”

“You have to remember, it is a rural volunteer fire department. It’s probably just one of the volunteer’s turn to be on call.”

I reminded him of the time, in my own tiny hometown, when a fire call came in and all the volunteers rushed to the fire department only to discover that not one of them had remembered to bring the keys to the fire truck. That sort of thing is bound to cause delays.

It didn’t seem to offer Smuffy much comfort.

“So then I said, ‘I’m calling about a fire’, and he says, ‘You got a fire?’ – like no one’s ever called them up to report a fire before!”

“But they’re on the way, right?”

Smuffy added some arm waving to his pacing before stopping to give an unflattering imitation of the man on the other end of the phone.

“I told him where we were located and he says, ‘I know where that is.’ Then, there’s this big pause and the guy says, ‘You want some help?’” At this point, poor Smuffy’s eyes protruded in disbelief. “I said, ‘Yes, I want some help!” I’d like to know what in the world he thought I called him for! Anyway, he says they’re coming.”

After that, I sat, watching Smuffy pace from window to window, muttering under his breath. Time stretched into what seemed an eternity before he stopped, watching a vehicle approach.

A large, red pickup truck turned into our driveway and stopped in front of the house. A man in overalls and knee-high, rubber gumboots climbed out and ambled toward the front door. I stood by, watching and wondering if it might just be somebody looking for our landlords.

However, he did seem to be our guest, for when Smuffy opened the door, he drawled, “You got a fire?”

“Yes, right in here.” Smuffy, all business, led him into the bedroom and pointed out the problem.

The man seemed to think the scene before him required careful consideration. He lifted the bill of his farmer cap, scratched his forehead and wiggled the cap back into place.

“Yup,” he said, “you sure got a fire in there.”

Smuffy tried to contain himself. “Well, do you have a hose?”

“No. No,” he drawled. “I got a squirt bottle, though. I’ll go get it.”

He moseyed out the door to his truck.

Smuffy turned to me, his jaw muscles twitching. “I don’t believe this!”

I didn’t know what to believe. I positioned myself next to the bed and guarded my bundle.

The man returned, carrying a plastic gallon milk jug full of water, which he squeezed onto the fire. He refilled it from the kitchen sink and had another go at it. Satisfied with the results, he looked up at Smuffy.

“You got a barbecue grill?”

Smuffy looked stricken. “Huh? What!

“I thought if we had somethin’ like a barbecue grill and some kinda shovel, we could scoop up what’s left of the fire and take it outside. Then we can have a look up the chimney.”

It began to register on Smuffy’s face that he considered this a sound idea.

“I’ll go see what I can find.”

Smuffy had another go at lawn skating while I stood there in a grateful state of shock. I didn’t know what to say to this barnyard angel of mercy, so I didn’t say anything at all. I didn’t know what had happened to the fire truck. Perhaps it had hit a patch of ice and run off the road or perhaps Smuffy’s panicked directions had sent it to the wrong destination. I only knew that we had help and that was something. This kind man, appearing as if from nowhere, had come just when we needed him.

After pilfering the landlord’s barbecue grill and careening back home with it, Smuffy found a scoop of some sort and they went to work. With the fire carried outside, the fellas returned, each taking his turn looking up the chimney. They came to a mutual agreement that the burning portion of the flue having collapsed, everything seemed fine up above. Apparently, our entire house fire had just been carried outside and plopped into the snow. We left the smoky bedroom for the slightly more breathable living room.

I sank into the rocking chair, allowing my nerves, which had been tied into knots and sizzling on the ends, to unwind and cool down a bit. Smuffy’s nerves, however, appeared to be working themselves up into a series of knots that would make any Boy Scout proud.

The nice man walked to the door and turned to Smuffy.

“Yep. Yep. Looks like it’s all out now. ‘Course, I’d keep an eye on it for a day or two if I were you, just to be sure somethin’ doesn’t start up again in there. Maybe oughta let the wood stove go out and just use the furnace for a few days.”

Smuffy nodded. “Thanks for your help. I appreciate it. But, before you go, I just have one question…”

I gave Smuffy the once over. He seemed to have worked himself up into quite a state. His chin rose in what I considered to be a rather haughty manner. His chest heaved, making him look as if he were about to burst. I had heard someone described once as apoplectic. Though I’d never been an eye-witness to such a condition, Smuffy gave me the distinct impression that he qualified.

The man met his gaze, his eyes honest and expectant.

“What I want to know,” Smuffy barked, “is whether the fire department always sends someone out to check to see if there’s really a fire before they send the fire truck!”

The man stared. I stared. I may only have been married a few days, but I knew a thing or two about men. Well, anyway, I knew enough to stifle the sudden-gasp-followed-by-outburst-of-laughter that threatened to escape me. I felt a few of my ribs trying to dislocate themselves in my efforts to contain it. My new husband had his pride, after all, and a whole lot of testosterone and pent-up frustration to go along with it. I pinched my lips together and held my breath.

After hoisting up his jaw from whence it had dropped, the man blinked at Smuffy.

“Fire Department? I’m not from the Fire Department!”

I bit my lip.

Smuffy stared back at him, wild-eyed.

“Well then, who are you?”

Rural Fire Scouts

The story that followed left us no doubt that Smuffy had been on the receiving end of a miracle in spite of himself. In his frantic effort to get help, he’d called the number just above or below the phone book’s listing for the rural volunteer fire department. The man gave us his name, saying that he’d known exactly where to go, because our landlords had hired him a few months earlier to do some updates in the kitchen. We proceeded there and he proudly pointed out his handiwork to us before he left.

So much for our outing. We thought it best to stay close to home, fanning the smoke out of the windows and feeling the walls every five minutes – just to be sure.

Pinwheel Quilt Survives!

 

As the shock wore off, we began to count our blessings. We could have left before the smoke became noticeable. With the landlords gone as well, we’d likely have come home to a pile of cinders. He’d called the wrong number, but he’d called the right wrong number.  Help did come and we learned that there are some truly Good Samaritans left in this world. It rearranged our priorities, too. Whatever other necessities had topped our list, we rearranged them all now in favor of our new Number 1: Install a Phone!

Of course, I promised Smuffy I’d keep the whole thing a secret. He relaxed his demands after a while, realizing that the faux-fireman, who did have a phone, had probably told his side of the story to most of the county before sunset.

(Just a note to all the local fire departments out there.  Stick to the current system.  The fire-scouting program, while perhaps tempting due to budgeting concerns, seems flawed somehow.)

While passion and romance had been the only things we’d planned to ignite, we ended up with much more – and it was only the beginning of my Life with Smuffy.

There’s more, folks!  Oh, there’s MORE!

Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear from you!