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Small Talk: Soot yourself

I came home for lunch this week to find a strange man in the garage. He was covered with black smudges and had dark hair, a dark beard and mustache.

It turned out to be my very blond, fair-skinned husband. He had just finished playing chimney sweep, cleaning out the creosote that had built up last winter.

Creosote is a highly flammable black or dark brown residue that is a by-product of combustion — or so the dictionary says. It builds up inside the chimney and can block the chimney and/or catch fire later.

Hence the longstanding horror of sending small children down chimneys with large brushes once chimneys began to be used in the 13th century. By 1803, a mechanical sweeper was invented.

Again, we give thanks for modern tools and technology.

Meanwhile, my tall husband needs only to use a long metal brush to scrape out our not-so-tall chimney annually.

He does, however, have to stick his head inside the fireplace to see what he’s doing and I think it turns him into a 10-year-old boy. The soot rained down on his head and he wore it all day long, I think, as something of a badge of honor.

Even the dog didn’t recognize him and flew into a barking frenzy.

I am grateful he is willing to take on the task.

Although I occasionally fantasize that my old house burns to the ground, and I get to build a shiny new one, I suspect the reality isn’t much fun.

I’m grateful, too, to the professional chimney sweeps out there who continue the trade.

We have hired them from time to time, when my husband lacked the time.

One year, the sweep gently pointed out that the entire back of the fireplace was shot, wasn’t protecting the wall from the heat and needed replacing. Good to know.

I do love fireplace weather when I actually have a fireplace. I am ready to ignore my list of things to do, grab my latest book and light things up. I think I’ll have tea today, and cocoa tomorrow.

Jean Gillette is a freelance writer who will probably singe her eyebrows sometime in mid-January. Contact her at [email protected].