Fiddling while the Pizza Burned


SURELY THEY WERE NOT ACTUAL SOUNDS from a flesh-and-blood ox with nostrils flared, disrupting the order of a Sunday morning. But the bellowing – imagined or not — sounded like a wounded beast reduced to his knees in surrender to a “week that was.”

Yelling to be heard above the bellows, I informed my wife, kids and grandkids — all scurrying about to make church on time —  that I‘d remain at home.

Bone weary, I claimed “King’s X”– ox in the ditch, you know. It’s a card I’ve rarely played. I’d remain pajama-clad at home, comforted by coffee refills and Sunday morning sports pages. I volunteered to have lunch ready, though — two truly giant pizzas and a tossed salad.


   Shakespeare warned of slips ‘twixt cups and lips. Still, the perfect storm — which could have resulted in a house reduced to ashes — seemed severe penance for missing a single church service.

Don Newbury
Don Newbury

My misadventure had such innocent beginnings. I was a bit careless placing the pizzas on the oven racks, not realizing that Aldi’s giant pizzas are two inches wider than other brands. Therefore, each pizza must be placed perfectly on the rack. A three-inch overhang–out of view in back–can have serious consequences.

The family’s return home coincided with smoke curling from the oven. That’s when my world — in fast forward mode — turned to mush.


   Just as they arrived, I flicked on the fan above the oven.

This made the combusting pizza drippings combust faster, and in the next couple of minutes, son-in-law Kyle scattered a box of baking soda over flames lapping from the oven’s innards, emptied a fire extinguisher and suggested a call to the fire department.

My wife dialed 9-1-1, daughters Jana and Jeanie corralled dogs and kids, and I mostly wrung my hands.


   Kyle subdued the fire about the time the Burleson Fire Department truck arrived, some three minutes after the call. The firemen inspected the area, congratulated him for expertly extinguishing the blaze, carried the stove into the garage and bade us farewell.

Massive cleaning of residue from surfaces began; an order was placed for take-out tacos.

I rescued a couple of pieces of pizza — the ones I’d placed green olives on as grand substitutes for black ones — and urged others to join me. Alas, despite the pizzas miraculously “done to a turn” status, their “nays” drowned out my “aye.” There were mutterings about dangers of ingesting food where names could be written in the ash-coated residue.


   It was a dreadful way to end a homecoming weekend, one in which my wife and I had crowded a half-century of memories into two days. We don’t often have the opportunity to celebrate 125 years of anything, but so it was in Brownwood for Howard Payne University’s observance.

It is a place I have loved for almost half of its existence, one which granted my first collegiate degree. I served on its Board of Trustees, and ultimately as president and later chancellor.

I had planned to write of alumnus Dr. Dan Crawford’s clever remarks at the luncheon for fiftieth anniversary graduates, and other fun things. The kitchen mishap has caused postponement.


   A story provided by new friend Dan Russo will be shared now, however. A former FBI official who served twenty-seven years — and knew five US presidents “up close” — recounted a tale of legendary J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI’s first director.

Mr. Hoover redefined eccentricity. His foibles were many and well known by others in the Bureau. Few along his trail ever crossed him, and the few who tried did so at their peril.

All FBI figures knew well that their director decreed that all correspondence sent to him must include wide margins, 1.5 inches at top, bottom and sides, to be exact. This allowed him room to make marginal notes before returning to sender.


   On one occasion, the Special Agent in charge of the Dallas Field Office sent a memo, momentarily forgetting about wide margins. It was almost devoid of margins.

Hoover returned it with this single notation: “Watch the borders.”

The agent sent fifty agents to the Rio Grande, where they awaited further instructions.

My “further instructions” are to stay out of the kitchen.


   Dr. Newbury is a speaker in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Inquiries/comments to: Phone: 817-447-3872. Web site:

Please click the book cover image to read more about the humorous and inspirational stories of Don Newbury in When The Porch Light’s On.


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