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©August 2003

Carol Jane Remsburg



Friday Night Campfire







My mid-summer vacation turned out damp and dreary and filled with unexpected errands, trials, and non-so-pleasant surprises.  Still, overall, it was a hiatus from a high-pressure work situation.  Okay, so a vacation at home isn't like finding yourself gently swaying in a vast cotton hammock beneath the towering palms as they sigh in the breeze on your personal beach as the waves of that crystal clear water break upon a beach devoid of others save attentive hunky waiters and a good book.  Okay, enough of the fantasy—let's get back to the real world.


Geez, can I go back to my fantasy?  Sigh . . .still, the truth wasn't so bad.  I had a preteen on my hands getting sick, not truly ill or anything but a cold kind of sick that you worry about and hope doesn't transition into a fever or worse.  So home with me on Tuesday was child and any hopes of either relaxation or errand-running or whatever didn't happen.  It also didn't help that it poured nearly all day that remained more twilight than light.


On Monday we'd had our small, but pricey crab feast at my sister's house than ran late with many interruptions—per normal.  By Wednesday things began looking better and I managed to get some errands run that I'd long put off.  Thursday was for grocery shopping and other issues and well, Friday, Friday was saved to be a "play" day for me.  Little did I realize how quickly things can change.


Actually it was Wednesday when the seed was truly and well planted.  There are many things among the way of growing up that I've been able to enjoy that my child hasn't.  I won't even consider the idea of her taking to her bicycle and being gone for hours on end.  Nor could I even entertain the thought of her taking a creaky, leaking old rowboat with a brown bag of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a thermos of iced tea and a tag of bait and disappear before 6 AM to go fishing by herself and NOT come back until dinnertime.  –NOT!


But, I did get to experience just those things.


My family also camped often, nearly every weekend from well before Memorial Day up until mid-October.  My daughter, Erin, never knew how it was to wake up with a damp pillow shivering in a sleeping bag to be eager for the hot chocolate Daddy would have ready and by the aroma in the air—the bacon too.  Mom would have the eggs done and the pancakes—and the campfire burned always.


Even when we didn't camp, during the summer months, Daddy would have small bonfires or campfires in the backyard.  There were large logs arranged about the fire pit for all to sit about it.  It wasn't just for the family or us kids, but all the teens in the neighborhood.  All the kids came to our house rather than we going to theirs and our parents (of three daughters) much preferred it that way. 


During the tumultuous 70's, when the 'establishment' (meaning our parents) was considered not to mingle among, all those bad boys came.  They didn't come to see us girls so much, as to listen to that baritone voice of our father.  He told the very BEST ghost stories besides giving them solid advice on the side that those boys would never ask their own fathers about.  There wasn't a more respected man in the neighborhood among the teen boys than my dad.  They thought he was the coolest; thus they approached his daughters with much care and trepidation.


And so that's how it came that there was just another venue of life that my daughter had been missing, not just once but often—No campfire, no ghost stories, no roasting—burning of the wieners and flaming hot marshmallows over the fire.  No getting so close that the heat singes a bit.  No getting so scared by the passion with which the stories were told that you simply couldn't NOT believe them.  No relishing the scorching of your mouth after you cooked your own hotdog – to death.  And no, running for water after you ate a flamed marshmallow too soon. 


Erin had not ever experienced any of that before.  She had zero idea of what she was missing.  I grew up making and building and tending fires.  I loved a good fire and it is a very good thing I didn't turn out to be a pyromaniac—I loved fires that well.  It didn't matter to me, campfire, bonfire, woodstove, or a cook stove (yes, my maternal grandmother had one and cooked on it often).


With gentle affection and patience my father taught me just how to build and tend a fire.  For many years now I've resided in a home that has no fireplace or woodstove and I miss it and realized that my child has missed out on so much about fire and how it not can burn but bond.


By Thursday I knew I would make a fire happen for her.  Initially I wanted to burn the new "stick pile" that has grown.  However it was too damp because of the heavy and frequent rains plus it wasn't the size of something you could sit about and tell stories around—it would be a fire to tend, yet not of the magnitude of the past one:


Guess What I did Sunday Night


We need NOT go there shall we?


This should be a much smaller fire, a contained fire, and one we could roast those hotdogs and marshmallows and tell stories around.


This is also an arena meant to have others with you, not just one or two or three people, but at least a half dozen.  I made some calls to family and our niece and her hubby and new baby Dylan came to attend. 


I planned to begin about just before dusk—7:30 PM. 


So that Friday morning I ran out on my errand run to pick up stuff for hubby's work, then to Home Depot to get a dozen pavers for a fire ring, skewers for hot dogs & marshmallows, I'd already grocery shopped for the 18 dogs and 3 bags of marshmallows and the rolls.  Now all I needed was a couple of packs of firewood.


Try to find bundles of 'firewood' in August.  Ain't gonna happen, it just won't.


I ended up—two hours  and MANY stops later—at the grocery store buying a 'burn log' and hickory chunks used for smokers and on my way home I stopped at my sister's house and light-fingered six split chunks of her really wet firewood that I put out on my front stone steps to dry in the sun.


Did I say I got home late from my errands that day?  Did I say I had other plans for that last official day of my vacation?  Do you think I managed much?  If your answers were: "Yes, Yes, and NO," then you got that right.


Still I was anxious to ensure that the evening would be something worthy of memories.  I recalled a few of the ghost stories that Daddy used to tell, like the "Big John or Big Jonas" one when he was putting in that big air conditioning unit in the church basement over all those old graves.  Then there was the "Three steps from the bottom" story—HE EVEN SHOWED US THE HOUSE . . .  Then there was the one (and Melly will remember this one very well)—"Onward Christian Soldiers—where the devil himself danced in the fire." 


Daddy didn't know about the urban legends about the 'hook man' and such we know today, but he infused those stories with such a passion and believability that none of us slept easily or well after the telling of his stories and we never got enough of hearing them.  Often there would be those worried, hurried, frightened whispers in the dark of the tent to one sister or another for reassurance—only to be told to "shut up already." 


All of those memories came flooding back when I realized that my daughter had somehow almost reached the age of thirteen without any of those experiences.  The idea that I could create for her at least ONE of those experiences became my goal.  There would and will not ever be a day where she alights a bike and is gone down the road for hours nor will she ever walk a quarter mile to the shore to the creaky boat to pull the oars and fish by her lonesome for eight to ten hours at a stretch.  I'd be too afraid for her to allow it.


However a small campfire in the backyard wasn't out of the question.  All I needed was the required materials, the goodies and foodstuffs—AND the ghost stories.  I put the call out to friends on the web who gave me one or two, researched others, but to tell the truth, I fell back on the old standards I knew best, the ones I could expound on and exploit to the greatest effect.


Erin went round-eyed with fright and wonder—it was awesome to play a part in the snapping fire, smoke, and laughter.  My niece and her hubby and new baby also enjoyed it.  Now if only hubby could have come forth with a grisly tale from his own past it would have topped off the evening.  Yet, hubby played fire chief and kept the fire stoked and burning brightly.


Even in the light of the morning after, it was well worth the time.


And as hubby mentioned, "We'll have to do this again soon."


We will and hope you will too.



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