Chim Chiminey


My parents are children of the Depression.  They were born during a time when if you wore a hole in your shoe and there wasn’t enough money to buy you a new pair, you added a piece of cardboard to your sole and made it last until someone had enough money to buy you a new pair.  Truly for them the old adage rang true, “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without”.

It was because of this adage that they were, and still are, practicing their own version of frugality as I was growing up.  When I was around 15 years old my parents decided that it was time to clean the chimney in our house.

Why they did not call a Chimney sweep I have no idea (I think it had something to do with a penny saved is a penny earned), but they felt like they could come up with a plan to clean the creosote and soot out of the fireplace by themselves.  Here was their plan:

First, they removed any burned mess from the actual base of the fireplace, also called the “firebox”.  Then they decided that in order to clean the flue (shaft) of the fireplace they would take a burlap bag filled with scrunched up newspapers and tie a rope to each end of the bag.  One person would stand on the roof and the other person would stand in the family room, where the fireplace was located; they would essentially pull back and forth on the rope; in a sense it would be like dental floss removing the debris from the flue of the fireplace.  It was a kind of a tug of war type of activity to liven up home care clean-up on a Saturday afternoon.

Dad went to the roof and dropped the bag down the fireplace shaft; he held tight to his end of the rope.  Mom remained in the family room to catch, hopefully, the end of the rope that was tied to the bottom edge of the bag.  Then they hoped to pull back and forth to make a scrubbing action in the flue.

However, what they did not count on in this brilliantly conceived home project was that there was a damper in between them.   The stuffed burlap bag became wedged on the damper in the middle of the flue.  It was stuck, sort of like a cork in a wine bottle.  Now, how would you get that out?  What my parents decided to do was to send their daughter (ME!!!) up the flue to see if she could dislodge the bag.  But wait!  That might be nasty, ashy and toxic up there…how do we combat that?

So this skinny 15 year-old put on a swim cap and goggles and climbed into the firebox of the fireplace.  Then, with both arms stretched out over my head I reached up and tried to dislodge the burlap bag.  I was too short.  Something was moved in for me to step on to boost me higher up the chimney.  I was skinny enough to go up the flue, but not tall enough to reach as far up the flue as it took to retrieve the bag.  Moreover, now I was the Kork stuck in the neck of the wine bottle.

Mercifully, I was able to suck in my breath and shinny down and out the fireplace covered in soot and grime.  To this day I have no idea how they retrieved that burlap bag since I was the only one skinny enough to go up that enclosed space to get it to begin with.  The only thing I do know is that they had a professional chimney sweep come care for the fireplace after that.

Can you imagine the call to 9-1-1 had I gotten stuck up the fireplace???

9-1-1 Operator:  “Hello.  This is 9-1-1, what is your emergency?”

Parents: “Uh, well, ummmm.  Our 15 year old daughter is stuck UP the chimney.”

9-1-1 Operator: “Excuse me?  Did you say that she is stuck UP the chimney?”

Parents: “Yes, well you see, we thought it might be a good idea to clean the chimney and she was just gullible enough to climb up there and now she is stuck.”

9-1-1 Operator:  “Can’t someone just grab her by her ankles and jerk her down?”

This all makes me wonder why they even bothered with the burlap bag?  Heck, they could have put a rope around my ankles and lowered me into the shaft.  I could have also had a rope tied around my wrists.  Then they could have flossed the chimney with ME.    While I was lodged in there I could have inspected the flue for wear and tear, damage and possible corrosion.  This seems like a reasonable idea when you think of it and all the other possible frugal options of how to clean your own chimney.

I hate to think that I was the commodity that they were ‘wearing out, using up and making do’ with.  In a nasty retaliatory measure I eventually put on a few pounds and my body developed enough that I was no longer stick shaped.  In short, no one mistakes me these days for a chimney brush.  My psychological treatment for chimneyophobia has progressed to a stage where this Blog post is a proverbial “coming clean” for me.  No soot or creosote involved.

8 Responses to “Chim Chiminey”

  1. Melinda Luzbetak says:

    Loved it! Yet again! I will forever picture you with a swimcap and goggles, hands over your head, and covered with soot! Where did you FIND that picture! Did you superimpose your photo over the face? If so, you did a great job. If it came like that, wow, it looks a lot like you! Keep’em coming, “Cork”-y!!!

  2. Patti Ivance says:

    Ok, how did I miss this episode at the Lee house? Hilarious Korky!

  3. Deb Washburn says:

    Korky – you ALWAYS make me laugh outloud and this was not exception! Yes – I can just picture you doing that too…………..Wish they would have taken a pic of you after the episode! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Julie Muehlenthaler says:

    Like I’ve said have such a gift of writing and you always make me laugh! I want the first autographed book you write when it comes out! 🙂

  5. Laura Diebold says:


    Is this how your nickname started? I loved this story. Keep them coming.


  6. Korky Gries says:

    I have two friends who help me with the pictures- they are both very talented!! My nickname is actually my real name, Korky was picked as the name before Katherine. But considering my love of wine and my history in getting ‘corked’ up in chimneys, under decks, and other various places it seems to work. One of my French professors delighted in calling me “Bouchon”, the French word for cork. Julie, for sure I will get you an autographed copy, I just need to find me a publisher first!

  7. Jenny Crew says:

    Ahh… Korky, how did I NOT know this one? Good laugh for me over my lunch at my desk hour – by the way, wanted to let you know I have been enjoying your blog for a while now but hadn’t had the chance to let you know that! Keep up the good work! It (the blog) does seem a natural progression from the Christmas letters that keep all the relatives in stitches. You need to sometime work in the story of the teacher who made the example of you in either kindergarten or first grade. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that one!

  8. Barb Driscoll says:

    Love this story, Kork. 🙂 I hadn’t heard that one.

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