My grandfather liked to burn things. Many an afternoon or early evening you’d find him in the backyard, standing over a black barrel watching the smoke rise. He found things– various objects around the neatly cluttered yard to put in his kettle of contentment. There were branches that had fallen from the tall oaks in the wintertime. Brown leaves which had lost their vivid color and moisture in the fall. Rubber from an old tire. Perhaps a worn shoe void of its mate. These were the items that made the smoke black. But Papa stood there anyway, inhaling the plumes and diligently placing things in his cauldron and stirring and poking them with a metal rod.
He spent hours out there. When he came back inside for biscuits and gravy or to play solitaire on his cushioned coffee table he’d be all white-faced. He was a retired Nashville firefighter. He smoked Winston Reds.
I never really understood his fascination with fire. My brother and I burned the faces off our Star Wars figurines with some August sunshine and a magnifying glass. But that was just kids being scientifically experimental and stupid. My first bonfire at Girl Scout camp when we roasted apples wrapped in biscuit dough gave me a bit of an inkling into the fascination. A fire can turn raw dough into one of the best breakfasts I ever had?
Fast forward to high school when I joined my brother and his friends for camping trips at Cedars of Lebanon State Park. There was a lot of smoking going on there, some of which was the bonfire. We sat around it staring at the flames, telling stories and relishing in the quiet nature surrounding us.
A scattering of warm moments around bonfires happened since then. And even though I adore living in Florida there are rarely occasions to enjoy a flaming fire. But this past week or so it’s been unusually cold. Now I have a new fire pit sitting on the lanai. We’ve made great use of it– hotdog and marshmallow roasting with kids, a great New Year’s Eve house party, and delighting in it with a visiting friend from across the pond. Each time mesmerized by the dancing blaze and comforted by its warmth.
One time I tried to build the fire on my own, but to no avail. My son came over, poked and turned it with a stick, and got it going again. Both hubby and our male Brit friend had no trouble either. Apparently you must have balls to get a proper fire started. I joked about this on Facebook and several female friends commented it was no problem for them. They were my lesbian friends.
I guess the Girl Scouts didn’t quite teach me to build a fire. But I can damn sure make a kick-ass breakfast!
Isn’t it amazing how a fire can be so deadly, yet so hypnotizing at the same time? A contained fire brings people together, away from the television, from crap small talk, and into a primitive state where words are spoken that might have otherwise just hung on the tongue. It warms your toes. It makes food charred and toasty and yummy. And if you have a wood-burning stove you can heat your entire house. My brother has one. I can see him now, chopping wood and placing it in the black metal heater, stoking it with the poker.