A Clean Sweep
Four decades as a chimney sweep have resulted in many friendships—and a great collection!
My life as a chimney sweep began in a hospital waiting room in 1978, while waiting for my fiancée to undergo an emergency operation. I nervously looked through a magazine and noticed an ad to become a chimney sweep. At the time, I was between semesters from university; little did I know that I would never return. Six months later, after building a business plan to present to the bank, I was in the business of cleaning chimneys. Over the years, I’ve been on thousands of roofs and in as many houses. The views have been amazing, the people more so. My unique job has allowed me to share in many lives and places. Clients have become friends, very close friends in some cases. So much so that I have travelled with them to other parts of the world or have visited them at their properties elsewhere. I have attended weddings as a chimney sweep, mostly for English families. In one case, I was asked to appear at a wedding for a couple and then, 20 years later, asked to appear at the wedding of the couple’s daughter. The history of sweeps attending weddings goes back a long way in England, and is believed to bring good luck to the newlyweds.
Many of the families whose chimneys I take care of have had children grow up to also become my customers. One of my first customers turned 101 this past Christmas, and I still take care of her chimney. Many are like family members whom I only get to see once or twice a year.
My special way of earning a living and the passion I have for it have resulted in a collection of many items associated with the trade, many given to me by clients. Friends have gifted me with a great number, too. From a sweeps-orientated nutcracker from Germany to a coffee mug from England, I have acquired a lot of things that need dusting, as my partner likes to point out.
Some don’t just sit on the shelf. One special item is a figure of a chimney sweep that burns incense inside of its body; the smoke comes out of his mouth because he is smoking a pipe.
The nutcracker was a gift from a client who became a close friend. It was made in Germany by KWO, a renowned manufacturer of such items. Upon entering my home, the silhouette of a climbing sweep hangs on the wall, letting you know you are in a unique home. A number of things I have collected are not sweep-based but have been acquired because of my job. Artwork, tools, furniture, a large antique stained glass window, even my kitchen was inspired by the many houses I’ve visited.
The biggest gift, of course, has been sharing life with the people I work for— knowing my job keeps them warm and safe on those cold days and nights. I will miss this special job, someday. ■
David, sporting his formal work attire, with his girlfriend, Karen.