While most families were busy Christmas morning opening presents, we were learning how to use the fire extinguisher up at Uncle Leo’s place in Strawberry.
It began innocently enough. Judge Leonardo D. Strano, who happens to be my uncle, invited me to spend Christmas with he and the missus up at his cabin atop the Mogollon Rim. I usually spend Christmas with Uncle Leo and his succession of wives, most often in Phoenix, but with all the snowfall in the mountains, Uncle Leo thought it would feel more like Christmas up north.
So, on the morning of Dec. 25 it was time for the current Mrs. Skousen to prepare her traditional Christmas dinner of roast turkey and fixin’s.
She had this interesting recipe: You take a turkey, baste it with mayonnaise, then place it in a paper bag. The theory is that the mayo keeps the turkey moist as it’s cooking, and the bag helps seal in all the juices.
Mrs. Skousen swore it worked. She had done it many times. This year, she wanted to show Leo and I how it’s done. After marching us into the kitchen, she got the turkey out of the refrigerator, where Leo had been instructed to place it so it would be thawed by Christmas morning.
It was not. It was rock hard.
But Mrs. Skousen was not to be deterred. This is why microwave ovens were invented.
And after a few minutes on defrost, she was ready to begin her cooking lesson.
First, she told us, you take a jar of mayonnaise and slather it all over a turkey. I had heard of greased pigs, so this seemed to be a variation on that theme. Then, while she held open a brown grocery bag, Leo slid the slippery fowl inside, and into the oven it went.
After about an hour, Mrs. Skousen began fretting that the roasting pan might not be large enough to hold all the drippings, so we decided to place the bird, original paper bag and all, into yet another paper bag.
In retrospect, this was a good idea in the same way filling the Hindenburg with hydrogen was a smart move.
I noticed the smoke about the same time Mrs. Skousen screamed, ”Help!”
I ran into the kitchen to see flames roaring out of an open oven door. I mean big flames. Fire shooting up to the ceiling kind of flames, volcanic eruption flames.
“Where’s the fire extinguisher?” I yelled.
“There, in the cabinet,” Mrs. Skousen pointed.
That would be the cabinet right by all those flames shooting up to the ceiling.
(IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP: Don’t put your fire extinguisher right next to where there is likely to be a fire. It is most inconvenient.)
At this point, with smoke filling the house and the flames growing more intense, somebody yelled out, “Call the fire department.” I believe I was doing the yelling.
Cooler heads prevailed, however, and in a moment I wrested the fire extinguisher from the cabinet. “How the hell do you work this thing?” I asked Leo. He shrugged. I was alone on this project. I had enough sense to point the nozzle away from me, pulled the safety pin and aimed it at the oven.
WHOOSH! A stream of yellow stuff came flying out of the nozzle into the stove, all over the turkey and filling the kitchen with a golden cloud of fire retardant that eventually settled into every corner, even seeping into drawers and cabinets.
I had solved two problems at once. The fire was out and the question of how we would spend the rest of our morning was answered. We would spend it with a mop and a vacuum cleaner.
Before then, however, I had a partially discharged fire extinguisher to dispose of. You can’t keep them around after use, a label on the side of the device warned. “Empty extinguisher before disposing,” it ordered.
So I did. I walked outside and fired off the rest of the extinguisher’s contents, leaving a 10-foot circular patch of bright yellow in the snow.
It became an instant tourist attraction. Neighbors wandered by all day to inquire just what kind of animal had relieved itself in our yard.
“You see the size of that puddle?” one older fellow said. “We must have friggin’ dinosaurs up here in the mountains now.”
Or very large, incontinent reindeer.