Kindling the flames of hot-water heater and fishing fever

SATURDAY'S HERO

September 25, 1993|By ROB KASPER

Because I fixed a hot-water heater, I have to take my kid fishing.

It happened the other night when a neighbor asked for help relighting the pilot light on her hot-water heater. Fixing the light was a quick job. I had the right tools -- a flashlight and long matches.

After checking the hot-water heater's control switch and sniffing around to make sure there weren't any gas fumes lingering in the air, I pulled off a removable panel from the bottom of the water heater.

Then I pulled out my matches. They had wooden shafts about 12 inches long. I bought them a few years ago at a store selling fireplace paraphernalia. Theoretically, you can start a fireplace fire with these long matches without getting down on your hands and knees. The match shaft is so long you don't have to bend over to reach the crumpled newspaper stuffed under the logs.

I say "theoretically" because I don't think I have ever used the matches to start a fire in a fireplace. Instead I save them for lighting the pilot light on the furnace. They came in handy firing up my neighbor's hot-water heater, which, like the furnace, had a pilot light in a hard-to-reach spot.

I pushed a lighted match into a dark hole at the bottom of the water heater. I turned the control switch to "pilot." The flame sprang to life. I held the control switch in the pilot position for a few minutes, then helped it pop up into its normal operating position. Soon flames were roaring, and water began heating.

While waiting for the water to heat up, I saw the stuffed fish. They were on the basement walls, mounted on handsome pieces of wood.

They were trophies, testimony to the prowess of my neighbor's late father, Edward Thomas Fenton. Before he died in 1982, Mr. Fenton regularly drove to Loch Raven reservoir where he plied the waters in his boat, P-1, looking for lunkers.

He landed a few, as the walls of the basement proved. As the faces of the big bass, fat crappie and long brown trout stared down at me, I felt a sense of being connected to local fishing history. And, I felt a faint flicker of fear; some of those fish looked mean.

I picked up the phone and told my wife to send our 8-year-old son down the street to view these fish. Within minutes the kid was in the basement staring back at the fish. He was excited. After all, it was a school night, and instead of doing homework he was prowling around a neighbor's basement, uncovering "treasures." The kid was also envious. He had never hooked a fish that big.

The jealousy grew as my neighbor showed us yellowed newspaper clippings, old photographs, and gleaming trophies that her father had collected on heroic fishing expeditions years ago on Loch Raven reservoir.

A few years ago, I rented a boat and took the kid fishing on Loch Raven. All we pulled in was moss. And most of it was on the boat's propeller. The kid remembered our failure, but, after seeing the trophies in our neighbor's basement, his fishing fever was rekindled, like the hot-water heater pilot light. We weren't 10 steps out of our neighbor's basement when the kid put in a request for an immediate fishing trip to Loch Raven. In his hand he was carrying some handmade lures our neighbor had given us.

The kid was was convinced that, armed with this new lure called the "Fenton fly," he, too, could land a whopper.

I hoped this fresh enthusiasm for fishing would fade. And, after a few days, it dimmed. There were soccer balls to kick. And basketballs to shoot. And fire escape routes to plan.

Planning escape routes during a fire is a yearly event. Concern kicks up shortly after firemen visit the schools and lecture kids on fire safety.

True to form, the other day the 8-year-old emerged from the school-time session with the firemen with a list of questions for his family.

Did we regularly test the batteries in our smoke detectors? What pieces of furniture could he use to break open the bedroom windows and flee from a fire? Had we planned our escape routes from our bedroom?

Not only did the 8-year-old have his two escape routes planned, he also got busy collecting the handful of prized belongings he would take with him if he ever had to flee our burning house. He planned to save his bank, a few swimming trophies and his new fishing lures. He saved the lures, he said, because even if the house burned down, he still wanted to go fishing.

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