London Fog in my Bedroom
I had my first experience with fire, much like A Child’s Christmas in Wales, not a raging conflagration. Only three of us were left as a family. My father had landed a better job, business manager of a metal stamping company. All three of us moved from the south side, Halsted and 67th streets to the west side of Chicago. At this time, 1950, apartment listings which provided for a young child, five, were slim. We settled into a one bedroom apartment in the large Central Plaza Hotel. At that time, not at all a bad place with its own restaurant, coffee shop, garage, gift shop, and what looked like a bell tower on top its four stories. The ladies at the front desk became our best friends sharing champagne (ginger ale) with them when Ike won the election. I stashed my bicycle in the baggage room just inside the entrance, strode past the front desk passing the elevator at the side, climbed three steps, followed down a long hall, turned to the right and then traveled another hall to arrive at our secluded apartment. My parents bought me roller skates with rubber wheels so that I could skate silently down those long hallways.
Mother and father had the bedroom. I slept on the king sleeper-sofa. Every night I removed the seat cushions pulling out the bed frame with its sheets still ready to climb into. The three of us had been watching the minuscule screen on a new device, a television. Now, I think the screen was a Zenith 16 inches across but definitely black and white. The Big Show had Jimmy Durante, not stylishly dressed, not handsome, with a gravelly voice and a nose that riveted our attention, the Schnozzola! We waited for his “Inka Dinka Doo” opening and his “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” ending. Years later we learned as we suspected, that Mrs. Calabash was a pet name for his late wife. It was all good humor, not a mean bone anywhere, letting us retire to bed smiling and chuckling.
Unfortunately for all our lungs, my parents were smokers. After we listened to “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” my mother thought she extinguished her cigarette in a glass ashtray sitting on a table beside the sofa which was about to be my bed, again. Not even an hour into sleep I woke, choking, and thought the room was filled with smoke. Running to my parents’ bedroom I loudly announced:
“FIRE, there’s a FIRE.” Ridiculous, my trying to wake my parents. They said.
“Go back to sleep.”
As I walked again into a smoke-filled room, I turned around and commenced shouting at my parents…
“Its London in a fog. Help! Help! SMOKE.” It must have been the desperation in my voice, but they did manage to wake enough to stumble into the room with my pull-out bed where the cigarette had been smoldering in the arm of the sofa bed.
It was my father who took charge and called the front desk. Only minutes passed before a maintenance man arrived, with a fire extinguisher. There were no flames. We opened all the windows to expel the smoke. What we found was that my mother’s cigarette had not been extinguished, cracked the glass ashtray, rolled off onto the arm of the sofa/my bed and commenced smoldering until I awoke choking. We all laughed with the maintenance man and, in the future, when one of us past the front desk, they would whisper
“London In a Fog!”
© Maryrose Carroll