May 25, 2006
Memorial Day weekend is perfect for campfires. The weather is usually still a bit cool, and the mosquitoes in the north country have not yet hatched. As soon as the sun begins setting, the sky turning a spectacular red over the bay, we will began gathering around the firepit, fighting over chairs and dragging over the benches from the picnic table. We often have more than twenty people, and that’s a lot to fit around one fire. With-a-Why is still small enough that he can just claim someone’s lap – and the skinny women in the family will often sit two to a chair.
Few things are more relaxing than just gazing into a fire. People’s faces are sort of hidden, and a teenage boy dressed all in black with a headful of dark hair will disappear into the shadows altogether, invisible until he speaks up to tell a joke or begins to play the guitar or harmonica. My father tells the same stories every year: we hear about his first car, which was a ’36 Ford with a pop-out windshield. My mother will talk about her childhood summers spent down at the Jersey shore or on her Aunt Jane’s farm.
We play the same games every year: Twenty Questions is an old tradition. The newer tradition is a game in which a person yells out a word, and teams have to sing a line of a song with that word in it. My father, who is in his late seventies, often challenges some of the songs the young people come up with. He is always saying, "What? That’s not a song. I never heard of that one."
Firelight creates an easy sort of intimacy. You can join in the conversation if you want, but you can also just stare into the flames and listen, leaning against the person next to you, passing the bag of cookies around, petting one of the family dogs, or snuggling a small child. Eventually, the small kids fall asleep, and older family members go off to their tents for the night. The teenagers disappear to the teenage tent, and I take one last look at the flames before pouring a bucket of water on the fire, and watching the smoke rise to the night sky.
Posted by jo(e)