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Saturday essay: The sweep

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Contact Colin McNickle (412-320-7836 or

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Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 8:57 p.m.

The chimney sweep did his duty in the nick of time. Coupled with the cold front that has pushed through, the burn season can begin today.

Saturday last, the same European sweep who has done the job annually since 2007 returned for the seventh time. A consummate pro, he knows the fireplace much like a doctor once knew his patients. His first look, and with no notes, goes to one corner above the enhanced smoke shelf of the custom ceramic firebox where the soot collection is perennially heavy.

“Dirty, dirty, dirty,” he notes in his equally thick and rich Balkan accent, moving the trouble light to and fro to complete his inspection. “Three cords,” he says, correctly gauging how much wood was burned last season.

In comes the fella who does the actual cleaning, along with the owner's son. The latter has just begun classes at CCAC; he wants to major in marketing and, eventually, take his dad's business to new heights. If earnestness is any measure, he will.

As has become our annual custom, his dad and I repair to the garden to compare amateur horticultural notes. Not the best of years, we each conclude, lamenting our mutual tomato troubles.

The fireplace inspection and cleaning done, the sweeps remove their brushes, vacuum and tarps and retreat to their truck. The bill is paid, hands are shaken and parting pleasantries are exchanged among men who respect and understand the majesty and the power of the home hearth.

Pardon me, but it's time to light that first fire.

— Colin McNickle

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