The Chimney Sweeper’s Wife
Fall is the time when the soot and char from a previous year has to be removed from inside the smoke pipes so that they could be replaced with this year’s wood burning residue. I live in an old schoolhouse that is nearly a century and a half old. It is a long way up to the top of the roof and there is no way that I would clean the flue myself. Heights have always held their sway over my sense of security. This was a job for a professional.
A few days earlier, I had scoured the yellow pages trying to find the name of the chimney sweeper I had used last year at this time. As usual, I never quite remember the name and I never quite remember where I had placed last year’s bill and/or business card that would give me a hint of which of the myriad of chimney sweepers that I used. I had thought that I picked out the same chimney cleaner as I did the year before but when the old red truck pulled into the driveway, I realized that I did not recognize the driver. Oh well, it really didn’t matter. They all know what they are doing.
This fellow was older and like all chimney cleaners that I have met he possessed the gift of the gab and a lifetime’s wisdom in just about any subject that was broached. I watched him pull out his tools of the trade – the brushes, the scrapers, the wet vacuum and of course the ladder. The chimney sweep and I made small talk, talking about this and that and the importance of keeping a clean flue while he sat on his hands and his knees with his head inside the wood stove looking up at the challenge ahead of him. He got out his poles and began running them up and down against the walls of the pipes. His grinding would bring down all manner of black chunks that would clunk and clink onto the bottom of the fireplace and out onto the hardwood floor.
We had quite the build up of debris from the previous year. The wood that I burned had not been thoroughly dry and it created a mine’s worth of creosote. The chimney sweeper kept working away at it while chatting away on anything that the two of us had stumbled upon during our exercise of expressing our worldviews upon one another.
Several hours passed before the chimney sweeper decreed that my chimney was clean and it was good to go for me to light a fire once more. His wet vac inhaled every last granule of creosote that had fallen. He placed the contents of the vacuum cleaner into a burlap sack.
Even though his job was done our conversation was not. We kept talking as he piled up his tools and started taking them back to his truck. I came outside with him and noted that it was quite cold. I was not wearing a coat and I had to rub my arms to keep warm.
It was then that I noticed that the chimney sweeper had not come alone. There was somebody else in the truck’s cab. I could only see the back of the head. The hair was gray and curly. I assumed that it had to be his dog. Only a dog would have the patience to sit several hours inside a cold cab while his master was busy attending to the things humans do.
“That’s a nice dog you have!” I said to him.
He looked at my oddly. I indicated the inside of his cab.
“That’s a nice dog,” I reiterated, “What is it a sheepdog?”
“That’s not a dog!” he cried. “That’s my wife!”
The woman inside the truck turned around and I could now see that she was indeed a human, something that I did not feel I was at that moment. Yet, despite my embarrassment I was biting my tongue as I knew that I now owned an anecdote.