In my frenzy, last Monday, to get everything done that I wanted to do before leaving the island on Tuesday, I got careless. Among the many incidentals on my to-do list were
- bag up the trash,
- empty the compost outside in the bin and
- burn the papers.
Leaving for a week without doing one of these things could be seen as an invitation to the neighborhood mice, local fruit flies or ants. At the very least, having all of the garbage taken care of would make for a more pleasant home-coming.
It was in burning the papers that I got into trouble.
I have a large fire pit, close to six feet in diameter and about half that deep. I use it all winter, without a second thought, to burn my papers. Monday, I carried out my burnable trash, tucked it underneath the big mound of twigs and branches I had collected there, and lit a match. It wasn’t much: a few cardboard tubes from toilet paper, a cereal box, a mound of junk mail and envelopes, and a couple spent butter wrappers. It was all collected in a corrugated box from Amazon. Corrugated cardboard is actually recyclable, but I save a box, just to keep all of my other papers contained, and burn it, then, with the rest.
I had so much to do, I almost walked away and let the fire burn. It’s a large pit, as I said, and bordered with rocks. It’s good that I didn’t. I soon noticed that my fire was feeding on the dried grasses between the rocks, and moving out onto my lawn. I watched for a bit, expecting it would quickly put itself out. Not so. Winds, over the last several days, had done a thorough job of drying out the grasses, that just a week ago were buried in snow. The fire seemed intent on moving right across the yard, through all the tall grass that didn’t get mowed last fall, and all of the leaves that had accumulated there.
I thought of the hoses that, if linked together, would reach from the outdoor spigot in the garden to the fire pit in the front yard. Those hoses were all separated, rolled, and hung in the shed. Did I want to dig them out? No. Did I need to? Maybe.
I had watched too long. The fire was really moving, now. I started stomping on the blades of fire. For every one I trampled, another seemed to spring up. I needed to work faster. I needed better shoes, but had no time to change. The ones I had on, now retired except for yard work, are an old, worn pair of Sketchers GoWalk slip on shoes. They aren’t particularly attractive, but – when new – they have a light, airy sole that makes them comfortable for long days on my feet. The slip-on style is nice for my last minute rush to get out the door in the morning. I notice, though, that the fluffy sole wears down quickly, soon offering no support whatsoever. It didn’t offer much of a barrier between the flames and my feet, either!
I rushed around that fire pit for twenty minutes, trampling out the escaping flames. Just when I’d think I finally had it, another would spring up. When I finally had it reduced to black ash, I was afraid to move away until the whole fire was finished burning. Why had I so carefully tucked the papers under all that wood? I don’t know.
The whole episode left me behind in my tasks and buried in memories that reach back more than half a century. When we were just little, Brenda, Ted and I one day managed to steal a pack of matches. I don’t know how accurate this story is, but this is exactly how I’ve held it in my memory for all of these years:
We were small. Maybe Brenda was as old as eight, which would have meant I was seven and Ted was five. The matches weren’t long, or even wooden, as I remember it. We stood in a tight circle with our contraband, in the field behind our back yard. First, Brenda tried to strike the match, with no success. She handed it to me; I couldn’t make it light, either. I handed it to Ted. He struck the match, and it burst into flame. Startled by the heat, he handed it to me. I saw that the flame was getting close to my fingers, and handed it to Brenda. It burned her, and Brenda dropped the match. The flames took off across the dry grass.
It seems that we tried to stomp it out, though I can’t remember a summer day when we had shoes on. As Brenda and I stood, near panicked, watching the spreading flames, Ted grabbed up his shovel, ran across the half acre of yard to our sand pile, scooped up maybe a cupful of sand (it was a child-sized shovel) and ran back, to throw the few grains of sand he’d managed to keep onto the flames in an attempt to staunch the spreading blaze…and then ran back to do it all over again. My heart swells at the memory of little Ted (he was Teddy back then), scrawny and shirtless, tongue lolling out the side of his mouth as he ran with crazy eyes, with all of his might, to try to put out the fire.
We finally had to confess to our Mama, which we did with great remorse and many tears. The fire trucks came, and the day was saved. We each remember that day, of course. You notice that in my memory, I am innocent: I neither lit the match nor dropped it. The way the story lives in the minds of my sister and brother may be a little different!