July 08, 2008

Around the fire

Around the fire

Evenings are cool on the river, even during July, so as soon as it gets dark, we gather around the campfire. Several family members bring guitars, which leads to some music and singing, but mostly we talk and play games in the firelight.

One game that my kids love to play is the music game in which someone points to a random word in a book and then we have to sing at least eight words of a song with that word. For some reason, the book we traditionally use is Laura Ingalls Wilder's The Long Winter, mostly because someone left a hard-cover copy of the book at camp years ago, and it's still there. But the words can be difficult. "Trousers?" one of the kids will say in disbelief. "WTF? Who would put the word trousers in a song?" And why is that Christmas songs always use the word sleigh instead of sled? What's with that?

We play as one team, the American team, competing against countries like China or Finland. My brother uses his announcer voice to keep us abreast of the scores: "In a surprise move, Iceland has just pulled ahead with 8 points! That's going to be tough to beat." The funny thing about my family is that they are very competitive even when they are playing imaginary opponents.

As the fire turns to red-hot coals, Tie-dye Brother-in-law and I will take turns getting branches or logs from the wood pile to add to the fire. My mother will give the fire an expert poke with a stick she keeps just for that purpose. When I add a log to the fire, my father always says, "Hey, don't make it too big." He says this every single time, even if the fire has smoldered down to just a few red coals. I've been building campfires for over forty years, and I think he's said this to me every time I've put a stick on the fire. Every. Single. Time. It's a tradition.

Between games and riddles and random trivia questions, sometimes we'll retell the old family stories. This year Red-haired Sister asked my mother to repeat some of the most gruesome ones, like the time the woman down the street was killed in her bed by her son-in-law with an axe. Yes, it's a true story that happened when I was just a kid. The part of the story my mother remembers most clearly is when the kids that lived in the house came over and asked her to call the police because the murderer had returned. The police found the axe murderer hiding in the chicken coop.

As the night stretches on, the early-risers will disappear into tents or cabins, leaving a smaller crowd. By then, the heat from the fire will feel good. When my kids were little, I used to stay up the latest, but those days are long gone. The teenagers and young people are usually still talking and joking noisily as my husband and I leave the fire to make our way to the little tent under the pine trees.


Lorianne said...

My family has a similar murder-down-the-street story that happened before I was born, when my sisters were young. The man down the street killed his wife, children, and then himself. The detail my mother remembers the most is the fact that the youngest child was found dead behind a bedroom door where he'd apparently been hiding. My mom said the boy had been at our house playing with my sisters only hours before the murder but had to go home for dinner. My mom always wondered whether the boy would have lived if he'd been at our house or if the murderous/suicidal father would have come looking for the boy & killed my mom & sisters while he was there.

YourFireAnt said...

Good post, Jo(e). I like the way you gradually developed the report-from-camp without seeming to, and let us know bits and pieces of things that would pique our imaginations but not necessarily get us absorbed in the telling. A good bedtime story.


liz said...

My sister had a friend whose older sister was killed by Son of Sam...horrible.

My family has a game where each player takes a piece of lined paper and on each line writes a letter of the alphabet. Then, on each line they write the first 26 letters on the front page of that day's newspaper (or a book, doesn't matter). For each pair of letters, the players need to come up with a famous person's name using those for initials (AA, for example could be Abigail Adams, or Adam Arkin, or Alan Alda).

You get points for being the only person who chose a particular name. The "famous person" has to be someone that at least one other person in the group has heard of. So in my family a childhood friend I had whose initials are ZF counts.

For subsequent rounds, you use the next 26 letters on the page, or the first 26 letters of a different story, whatever you like.

Gawdess said...

the picture is beautiful and warm but some of the stories that come from it are not...