THE BAILEY’S CHIMNEY STORY (Part 1)

How I got into, and then out of, and then back into the chimney business.

My grandfather, Lou Rose, came to Taos, New Mexico in the 1970’s, after squandering the family fortune.

Lou was a small man, barely over five feet, and he looked like a miniature, bald, version of the golden-years Sean Connery. When he arrived, he had his 95 year-old mother, Amu, with him.

Amu was hard of hearing to the point where you had to yell in her ear to be understood, and every five minutes or so she would ask what was for dinner.

Up to that point, Lou had spent his life playing golf, chasing women, and spending money. He’d never had a job, he was 65, and he was broke.

A friend of his opened a wood stove store, so Lou got certified to install wood stoves. He’d had never even finished high school and his chimney certification was the first credential he’d ever gotten.

He scrounged up enough dough to buy an old van at an auction, and some second-hand tools, and he became Taos’ main wood stove installer/chimney sweep.

He became sort of legendary. People couldn’t believe a guy his age would climb up and down ladders, cut holes in their roofs, and worm his way through attics.

The funny thing was, he loved it. He enjoyed installing stoves more than he’d ever enjoyed anything. He was proud to be doing something useful. In his later years he finally experienced the joy of doing service.

When I look at his life, I realize it’s a blessing that he lost the money, because he was a lot better off after he went to work, and it gave him a chance to redeem himself.

His customers adored him. I remember one guy in Angel Fire, whose chimney I was working on, said to me, “If you’re even half the man he was, you’re alright in my book.” Lou had installed his stove.

The chimney business is intertwined with a family redemption story, for me.

I still service those installs my grandfather did 30 years ago. They are perfectly done. I hold myself to that standard when I install stoves.

Lou died when I was 18. Seven years later, I’d been working as the cook for a dude ranch/hunting outfitter, when I moved back to my home town of Taos.

I was a playwright and a puppeteer. I liked seasonal work so I could save money and then take time off to write.

A guy named Wade Elston was looking to hire and train a chimney sweep. It seemed interesting, and seasonal, so I got a meeting with him and as soon as I told him who my grandfather was, Wade’s beady, bloodshot eyes got all big and round, and he said “You’re hired!”