every few decades, East Texas
experiences a brief taste of early autumn weather. All East Texans
know, though, that these few crisp days are simply a prank by Mother
Nature, who's hiding behind a door somewhere, waiting to jump out
and give us all a wedgie in the form of a 90 degree Halloween. Despite
the imminent return to sweltering heat and humidity that turns our
undergarments into alternate water sources, we try our best to enjoy
the cool while we can, often, ironically, by lighting a big smoky
fire and gathering around it for warmth. It's like we can't stand
it unless we're in a constant state of perspiration.
I experienced one of these rare cool snaps, and the accompanying campfire,
on a recent Friday evening at my in-laws' home. My wife's parents
live in what I consider "the country." In other words, their house
is beyond a five-mile radius of Walmart. In fact, if it weren't for
my in-laws' farm animals, my daughters would never have experienced
real chickens, except in their natural nugget state.
On this particular evening, a weenie roast was on the agenda, followed
by the obligatory s'mores. I was actually excited by the prospect
of breaking out my rarely-used telescoping roasting forks, which are
almost new because using them might require that I actually go camping.
To prepare, I was enlisted to help my father-in-law drag the metal
fire pit out of what appeared-to the untrained eye-to be a large scrap
pile (which he considers an outdoor equipment depot) behind his barn.
All I could think about was when I'd last had a tetanus shot. In the
meantime, my daughters and their cousins were tasked with foraging
for kindling, undoubtedly attracting every tick and chigger in the
greater East Texas region.
Once we had
the pit ready, I started the fire using my advanced wilderness skills
(a click lighter and a generous dose of Kingsford lighter fluid).
I've always had a fascination with fire. I think it comes from our
prehistoric heritage when the mysterious flames provided warmth
and security to our ancestors-or maybe we just like to watch stuff
burn up. (By the way, don't ever throw a can of shaving cream into
a campfire-unless the people standing around it have recently attacked
you with water balloons.) Apparently, my curiosity with combustion
is shared by my children and their cousins because they immediately
transformed into chronic pyromaniacs and started flinging in every
flammable object they could find, unknowingly providing free groundskeeping
services for their grandfather. (I'll be sending him an invoice
later.) At one point, we had to stop them from stripping the siding
off of the house.
Because the lighter fluid and yard waste made the fire so hot that
we were at risk of re-enacting the face-melting scene from "Raiders
of the Lost Ark," we decided to cook the hot dogs on the grill.
But when the inferno had died down a bit, it was time for what I
had been waiting for all evening-the trip home and a hot shower.
No, seriously, it was time for s'mores. The word "s'more" comes
from the Latin words for "We'd all just rather eat the Hershey bar
and be done with it."
Somehow, the children, who, moments earlier, were eagerly tossing
everything into the fire other than their own clothing, were now
complaining that it was still too hot and were insisting that I
roast their marshmallows for them. Unfortunately, my roasting skills
leave a lot to be desired, and my marshmallows always wind up catching
fire and looking like big scabs. (Have you ever noticed how flammable
marshmallows are? Fireworks stands should market them as pyrotechnic
Once we were all queasy from the s'more feeding frenzy, which usually
includes one actual s'more, at least three king size Hershey bars
and half a bag of raw marshmallows each, we sat around the glowing
fire visiting, laughing, and asphyxiating on wood smoke. Ah, campfires-nature's
I really do treasure these times with my family, and I feel they
bring us even closer together, but not as close as we are when we
get home and give each other a thorough full-body inspection for
ticks and chiggers.
Somebody get the tweezers!
© Jase Graves
"Quips and Salsa" October
15 , 2017 column