Living in Jackson


November 28, 2020

Browning the Bird: an Unguide.

I was the 21-year-old, know-it-all bride of an Army private when I attempted to roast my first turkey. We lived in a studio apartment built under the front porch of a four-story home that had been turned into housing for military families. I recalled my mom’s pre-Thanksgiving schedule before planning mine. She put her deep-sided, blue-enameled pan in the oven at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning. It took roasting a turkey six or seven hours for the bird’s skin to turn a crispy, golden brown and the meat to become falling-off-the-bones tender in time for our mid-day feast.

I did not let our tiny apartment-sized oven stop me from baking a 20-pound bird in a shallow jelly-roll pan. It was all I had. And, since I was smarter than my mother and liked to sleep in, I slipped the bird inside the oven around midnight the day before the holiday meal.

I awoke to footsteps thumping down the central staircase. “Fire!” our upstairs neighbors shouted as they pounded on our door around 3 A.M. “Wake up! Get out while you can!”

The groom and I sat up into a cloud of smoke that filled the room to the ceiling. We were both coughing and crawling to the door when I remembered the bird.

“Check the oven,” I said.

“It’s in flames,” he said. “Looks like a grease fire.”

Mom always used baking soda to extinguish her grease fires. Fortunately, I had a box. In no time the fire was out, the powdery-white bird was on top of the stove, and we were outside in our robes apologizing to neighbors. We were all lucky to be alive.

Two years ago, during the long Thanksgiving weekend one of our tenants at the Commercial Exchange hung an electric heater from a hook on the wall and went home to enjoy his holiday feast.

Our phone rang. “Your building is on fire!” An employee doing weekend building checks had smelled smoke, located the source, and extinguished the fire. He called us after notifying the fire department. When we arrived, the firemen were ready to chop holes in the roof of the block-long building to determine where the blaze originated. The electric heater had fallen face down igniting the floorboards. The fire burned through two layers and was searing a solid wood beam before the blaze was quenched. We were lucky.

When I learned this week that a tenant using an electric heater at the Commercial Exchange had blown a fuse, I recalled these Thanksgiving week memories. Many of us plug-in portable electric heaters to bridge the cold weather gap before our furnaces kick in. I found these safe use guidelines on the Internet:

  • Space heaters require a lot of energy — about 10 amps — and can be dangerous if used with extension cords or power strips not rated for the high amperage. If possible, plug your space heater directly into the wall.
  • If you must plug your heater into a power strip, make sure the strip is rated for a minimum of 15 amps, and avoid plugging other appliances into the strip during use.
  • Never use a heater you suspect may be damaged. Inspect your heater before you use it to ensure the cord is not frayed or cracked.
  • During use, frequently check to determine if the heater plug or cord, wall outlet, or faceplate is hot. If so, discontinue use immediately and contact an electrician.
  • Turn off space heaters when you leave a room or go to sleep. Never leave them unattended.
  • Keep heaters at least three feet away from flammable materials, and do not use them to cook food or warm bedding or clothing.
  • Ensure the heater is on a level, stable surface where it cannot be knocked over.
  • Never run a space heater cord beneath a carpet or rug. This can damage the cord and create a fire hazard. Never place heaters on cabinets, tables, furniture, or carpet, which can overheat and start a fire.
  • Prevent the risk of electric shock. Never touch a heater with wet hands.

Don’t count on being lucky. Be careful. Be smart.