Once every few decades, East Texas experiences a brief taste of early autumn weather. All East Texans know, though, that these few crisp days are simply a prank by Mother Nature, who’s hiding behind a door somewhere, waiting to jump out and give us all a wedgie in the form of a 90 degree Halloween. Despite the imminent return to sweltering heat and humidity that turns our undergarments into alternate water sources, we try our best to enjoy the cool while we can, often, ironically, by lighting a big smoky fire and gathering around it for warmth. It’s like we can’t stand it unless we’re in a constant state of perspiration.
I experienced one of these rare cool snaps, and the accompanying campfire, on a recent Friday evening at my in-laws’ home. My wife’s parents live in what I consider “the country.” In other words, their house is beyond a five-mile radius of Walmart. In fact, if it weren’t for my in-laws’ farm animals, my daughters would never have experienced real chickens, except in their natural nugget state.
On this particular evening, a weenie roast was on the agenda, followed by the obligatory s’mores. I was actually excited by the prospect of breaking out my rarely-used telescoping roasting forks, which are almost new because using them might require that I actually go camping.
To prepare, I was enlisted to help my father-in-law drag the metal fire pit out of what appeared–to the untrained eye–to be a large scrap pile (which he considers an outdoor equipment depot) behind his barn. All I could think about was when I’d last had a tetanus shot. In the meantime, my daughters and their cousins were tasked with foraging for kindling, undoubtedly attracting every tick and chigger in the greater East Texas region.
Once we had the pit ready, I started the fire using my advanced wilderness skills (a click lighter and a generous dose of Kingsford lighter fluid). I’ve always had a fascination with fire. I think it comes from our prehistoric heritage when the mysterious flames provided warmth and security to our ancestors–or maybe we just like to watch stuff burn up. (By the way, don’t ever throw a can of shaving cream into a campfire–unless the people standing around it have recently attacked you with water balloons.)
Apparently, my curiosity with combustion is shared by my children and their cousins because they immediately transformed into chronic pyromaniacs and started flinging in every flammable object they could find, unknowingly providing free groundskeeping services for their grandfather. (I’ll be sending him an invoice later.) At one point, we had to stop them from stripping the siding off of the house.
Because the lighter fluid and yard waste made the fire so hot that we were at risk of re-enacting the face-melting scene from “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” we decided to cook the hot dogs on the grill. But when the inferno had died down a bit, it was time for what I had been waiting for all evening–the trip home and a hot shower. No, seriously, it was time for s’mores. The word “s’more” comes from the Latin words for “We’d all just rather eat the Hershey bar and be done with it.”
Somehow, the children, who, moments earlier, were eagerly tossing everything into the fire other than their own clothing, were now complaining that it was still too hot and were insisting that I roast their marshmallows for them. Unfortunately, my roasting skills leave a lot to be desired, and my marshmallows always wind up catching fire and looking like big scabs. (Have you ever noticed how flammable marshmallows are? Fireworks stands should market them as pyrotechnic bonbons.)
Once we were all queasy from the s’more feeding frenzy, which usually includes one actual s’more, at least three king size Hershey bars and half a bag of raw marshmallows each, we sat around the glowing fire visiting, laughing, and asphyxiating on wood smoke. Ah, campfires–nature’s cigarettes.
I really do treasure these times with my family, and I feel they bring us even closer together, but not as close as we are when we get home and give each other a thorough full-body inspection for ticks and chiggers.
Somebody get the tweezers!