Hot Stuff

Popcorn Parties

When I was a little kid living in the ‘Hood we used to have some fun. Sometimes in the evening a show would come on, and my parents, like many folks of the day, used to make popcorn.

Now this was in the day before microwave popcorn, and the only “air popped” popcorn you got might have been at the show. (And those were rarer than hen’s teeth, they were – sometimes we’d go to an outdoor drive-in show – somewhere out on the South side of Augusta . . . but that’s getting into another story, so let’s move on).

They’d break out the old electric skillet – a big one, with a huge squared domed lid. The lid had a little vent you could close – a star-shaped thing with a little tab sticking up – nothing you’d want to touch while the darned thing was cooking unless you wanted to get burned.

Now this old skillet – big and silver, with that silver hood – had an equally big thermostat “thingie” on it – a big black thing made out of bakelite, with a round silver knob mounted on it. That was where the temperature was supposed to go, but cooking with it – especially in it’s later years when all the numbers had worn off – was more a measure of trial and error than accurately making an adjustment to the thing. The thing also had a long cord (black, as I remember, rubbery item, too!) – and a big sinister looking ‘probe’ that stuck out of it – which you were supposed to stick into the skillet. It had a little boxed opening for it, too.

Now we’d set that old skillet up on the counter – my mom and dad would put the oil in; then waiting for a few minutes as us kids looked on (we were too small for this thing – or so we were told. But we were growing! Every day. I often had ‘growing pains’ in my legs.) After the oil would get hot enough (they’d test it by throwing a few kernels in) – my parents would get down to cooking. Mostly my mother, but my father got into this thing sometimes. Shaking that ol’ skillet back and forth on the counter – it’s a wonder we didn’t wear holes into the thing! – for you’d be scooting it back and forth (as rapidly as you can) listening to those kernels to stop popping . . . never knowing when it was the right time to end.

And the smell and steam of popcorn would fill the house; there’d be butter on the stove – melting with golden intensity – and we’d all be smiling all around with anticipation over this thing . . .

And then! The lid would come off and the house would fill with this smell – growing more intense as time went on – and there’d always be the odd kernel popping, throwing popcorn everywhere. And us kids would go scrambling around, snatching the still hot kernels – trying to grab them in the air.

Then my mom would put the popcorn in a bowl and there’d be plenty to go around. She’d dribble on the butter; shaking the salt – we’d all go into the living room and watch TV, the lights way down low.

It was a good thing.

Then one day it happened.

I was allowed to cook the corn this time.

I had been arguing and advocating that the time had come – that I was big enough to do this thing. I’m reckoning I was about eight years old; I don’t know for certain. It might have happened when I was ten. Either way it was in the Oklahoma Hills region; that much I know for certain!

My parents had set it up for popcorn the way they always did – high up on the counter, in the corner of the kitchen. I had to reach up to hold this thing.

Because, you see, you had to hold the lid on. As the popcorn was popping you’d be sliding it around by the “thing” (the black ‘handle’ or electrode looking ‘thingie’) – and holding onto the little black bakelite knob on the top to keep the lid from sliding off. The lid barely fit down in this thing – about like your standard pot lid – just a quarter of an inch; maybe even less.

So there we are, sliding this thing all around – and you’ve got to move it rather quickly, or else the popcorn will burn. I’m busily (and quite happily!) – sliding this thing around, listening to the popcorn pop, wondering when it will be done – and if I’ve waited too long already or not, but depending on my mom and pop to tell me when this thing is done . . . when it happens.

I am shaking-shaking-shaking the skillet and when the skillet moves – I lower my arm (the left one, the one holding the lid on) – and the corner of the skillet lid’s dome touches the skin just below my elbow, on the inside. Yeah: the tender meat; not the tougher skin.

Instantly my arm flares with pain! I scream – the lid goes flying, popcorn going everywhere – I’m all upset at this thing . . .

and I look at my arm and a big red blister is forming – a huge one this time, not a little one like the other burns I’ve had . . .

and my parents immediately take me to the Fort Gordon hospital emergency room – which at this time is a little like a cordoned off barracks area, connected by a series of long hallways to another one (this one for miles) that led to some rooms and the wards . . .

Where the doctor tells me (and my parents) that I’m gonna have to leave this blister alone. They put some compresses and bandages on me . . .

And I thought I was going to be scarred for the rest of my life.

That blister held on for a few days – and then it gave in. Then it became encrusted; then it turned into a sore. That held on for a little while, and then the scar set in.

It was a round great big old red one – one about the size of a silver dollar I suppose. I kept it on my arm for a long, long time. I haven’t noticed if it shows up anymore (I’ve noticed my booster shot scar doesn’t) – it seems to have gone away by the time I was – oh, seventeen or so? I kept it on my arm for a long, long time.

Funny thing is: the skillet lasted longer than that scar did. It might even still be in the barn. And I’d be willing to bet: wherever that ol’ silver devil has gone to (it did quite a good job!) – it’s still burning, still working . . .

and if I was using it?

I’d be careful about my arm.

Hot Tea & Me

You’d think by that title that I’d be writing about getting burned by some tea – but you’d be half-wrong. In a way I did – and in a way I did not.

My mom used to make tea in a little teapot of hers. It was white and it was ceramic, and it had plain fluted curves – an attractive thing to me at the time. She’d boil some water (not in that pot; in the regular kind) – and then putting some teabags in this pot, she’d pour the water and put the lid on.

Well curious me, I’ve got this tale to tell. One that didn’t turn out so badly – because I learned something this time.

I had always watched her making tea – the delicate aroma filling the air – and I always wanted some, but whenever I tasted it (talking about the hot kind here: pure and unsweetened; unsavory to a child) – I didn’t want none. But that was okay with me. I was more interested in something else that was going on.

I’d noticed one day that her teapot had a spout – and from this spout steam would come. Now I’d used a vaporizer before; I knew a little about steam. However this one intrigued me. If the tea she made tasted so good (and it did when it was sweetened) – then how would steam be? It seemed to me (I can remember looking at this pot so clearly – it was sitting right there next to the edge of the counter.) Silver snakes of steam coiled from the spout – not many, not so hot looking . . .

And looking at it I could see it had a little hole in the lid which would let the air in – which meant I wouldn’t be sucking up hot tea or nothing . . . and the steam wouldn’t be that warm . . .

so pressing my lips to the warm spout (I was just standing there; it tells you how high I was; my chin was just above the counter) – I sucked in on this thing.

And for a second I was right. The steam was just warm.

And then the hot tea entered my mouth

and I was screaming and spitting.

For little did I know (poor little one!) – that the tea had been poured until it was higher than the bottom of the spout – it was that graceful curve which had done me in (betraying me!) – for it functioned more as a straw than a vent – so when I thought I was just sucking some steam in, I was getting a dose of the real thing –

a boiling hot mouth of tea.

They took me to the hospital again (gee – that hospital – that was a world of it’s own! And I imagine they might have gotten used to seeing me there . . . but Army doctors on rotation; you never know.)

The doctor applied some ice – and more ice when I got home – and I couldn’t keep enough ice in my mouth all night long, and it hurt all the next day.

I had blisters on the roof of my mouth and my tongue. I reckon I eventually got around to eating, though.

Because I’m still around today. 🙂