Growing up in a large family as one of the two oldest children I got the chance to babysit fairly often. At least to me it seemed often. Maybe it was only once a week or so. Being in charge of three to five younger siblings who refuse to acknowledge your authority, wisdom and higher rank makes for a tough slog at the babysitting stint.
It gets more complicated if both your older sibling and yourself get told, “you’re both in charge.” There’s a recipe for disaster right there. The older sibling will invariably try to pull rank based solely on a few extra years. While the younger, wiser sibling will try to lead from the bottom and behind without being noticed.
Much of the time the little ones would go off to bedrooms or already be in bed by time we older two got placed in charge. That made things easier, but it didn’t solve all the potential problems.
It didn’t always go so well.
Try to envision life without a microwave oven, dishwasher, iPad, cell phone, video, remote control anything and five hundred television channels. I know, it’s a stretch to harken back that many decades into the presmarteverything era. It was a dark time.
It was a glorious time, the best ever!
We had FIVE channels to choose from on the television! Most people only had three. The three big C’s showed up on everyone’s TV (ABC, NBC, and CBS.) We enjoyed the thrill of two, yes two, Public Television stations. What a luxurious life we led when the parentals left us in control.
Once the tiny kids got snuggled safely away and snoozing we could settle in and watch ANYTHING WE WANTED! And to make things even better we could have popcorn with extra butter! Yum!
The way we popped corn back in the olden days involved a saucepan and lid, vegetable oil and popcorn kernels. It’s still the best way ever to make popcorn, by the way. (That microwave crap will put you in an early grave, believe me.)
So we popped our own popcorn all the time. No big deal. Mom and Dad simply wanted us to clean up our mess if we did that.
Mom always melted the butter in a one-cup metal measuring cup that looked like a miniature saucepan. We’d plop an extra dollop or two of butter in there when we were in charge. Being in a hurry, ie trying to get the popcorn popped and buttered during commercials meant we set burner for the butter on medium instead of low.
Here’s where two heads without a real leader went south that evening.
When we heard the commercials end and the show start again both of us left the kitchen and went downstairs. One of us sat on the second to the bottom step in a token, “yeah, yeah, I’m paying attention to what’s going on in the kitchen” gesture, while still being able to see and hear the television.
That gesture served only to alert that child to the presence of a burning smell in the kitchen. One of us screamed and the other came running. On the stove sat a flaming cup of butter. Big flames, one or two feet high it seemed. My brother, being older and generally the one to take action, grabbed a hot pad and gingerly took the flaming butter across the kitchen to the sink.
Then he turned the water on to put the flames out.
Water and oil don’t mix. We all know that. Imagine what water and flaming oil does.
The room filled instantly with smoke. And when the smoke finally cleared, the burnt butter appeared splattered all over the kitchen ceiling.
I have no idea how the two of us didn’t get burned. Angels intervening perhaps, or chemistry and physics perhaps. We got lucky. I know that now.
We never went back downstairs to our television show because we spent the evening cleaning off the evidence of our disaster from the kitchen ceiling. If Dad and Mom found out, we’d catch heck and pay a heavy penalty.
As far as we know they never suspected we’d nearly burned up or exploded the kitchen. Phew!
Luckily both my brother and I live in different states from Dad and Mom so when they read this I think we’ll be in the clear.
At least, I hope so.