Life presents us with Circumstances.
Some folks call them Crises.
I was five years old. It was early summer, and Mommy was sick in bed with carbon monoxide poisoning that she got while driving the old ‘32 Ford with the windows rolled up to keep the rain out.
Aunt Seltee was here, helping us while Daddy was at work.
Dinner time came, and I helped her by putting dishes on the table, filling the water glasses and other things that I could manage to do. When kids’ heads are high enough to see over the tabletop, the world looks different from the adult view. We kids could see things up close.
Seltee had cooked the potatoes. The tuna salad sandwiches were already in the ice box. She began boiling the green beans.
Momma was still asleep.
Loopee came bursting in the door, shouting, “Steaks! I got steaks!”
(I called my father “Loopee” because everybody called Louis P. Davis, ‘Lou.’)
He plunked the paper bag down on the kitchen table, doffed his brown fedora, and took command.
Salt, lots of pepper, and a slathering of something else were applied to the steaks, after he had a swig of his freshly prepared Manhattan, with a twist of lemon instead of a cherry, of course, “to whet the appetite.”
Onto the broiler pan he slapped the steaks.
“Open the broiler door,” he commanded.
Easy job for a little kid – no bending over.
He turned on the gas. The little yellow flame turned blue with a whoosh and boom; then a staccato of sharp pops followed.
In went the steaks. The flames licked at them lovingly.
Seltee said, “Lou, don’t you think you should …”
“I know what I am doing.”
From the doorway between the dining room and kitchen, I watched the sizzling steaks send steam and bright sparks dancing into the hungry blue flames.
Then suddenly, Seltee shouted, “FIRE!”
Lou knew just what to do. He doused it with the remainder of his drink.
Things got worse.
Seltee threw water from her glass into the open broiler.
Worse yet. Little balls of fire danced out of the broiler and rolled across the linoleum floor, then quit.
Loopee started shouting and cursing and threw in a wet dish towel.
“GET OUT! RAUS!” he shouted to his sister.
The furious noise woke up my mother, who made small sounds from the bedroom. Seltee and my father ran to her aid.
The flat was filling with smoke that hurt their eyes, but not yet mine. Slipping into the kitchen, I turned off the gas and shut the broiler door. One kitchen window was already partly open, so I opened another one in the dining room, just like what my mother would have done. Then I went into my bedroom to hide.
By the time the adults returned to the kitchen, all was quiet.
The steak turned out pink on the inside and quite crispy on the outside, with a unique bouquet.
“Selbstbeherrshung,” my Uncle Ben would have called it – self-control.
All this happened before September 1939, when German-speaking people suddenly became suspect, but that’s another story.