Sunday, April 18, 2010

Fire Marshall Sam

The central theme of these stories is Sam playing with fire and getting burned. Now some of you may be thinking that you never thought of it as funny when someone got burned. Well, that's all right, you're about to.

To set the stage I want to first underline that character trait of Sam's that I mentioned before. He was quicker to act than to think. People who are like that often make mistakes. Young adventerous boys who are like that often make very funny mistakes. That is why Sam has such a high place in these recollections. He truly separated himself from his peers in those days. He set a bar for lack of forethought that perhaps only Brandyn ever surpassed.

Again, the tale begins not so much at the beginning as where the mild humor lies. It will then move on to things that make me laugh to think about even now.

As children we were taught to make fire and allowed to use it at a very young age. I was perhaps seven years old when I was given my first book of matches. Dad had shown us boys how to properly setup a fire and had outlined in the greatest detail why fire was a tool not a toy. (The only exception being fireworks. Those were a toy that one had to respect and play nice with.) I don't know how many little camp fires we built during our formative years, but Dad had taught us to be very careful when we did it. Only one ever got close to getting away from us and we got it back under control very quickly.

It is one of the odd facts of life that the more familiar you are with something dangerous the less keenly you feel the danger. I honestly believe that I was safer with fire when I was seven than when I was twelve. When you play with fire and don't get burned you begin to think in the back of your mind that you will never get burned. That is another twist of life. Once you feel you'll never get burned, you do. Of course, once you have been burned you often learn the lesson for life. Needless to say Sam didn't....

We were walking along the road in front of Nana and Papa's one day talking of this and that. Each of us had a book of matches or a lighter and a pack of lady fingers. Sam had started lighting them in his hand and throwing them. That was something we were never allowed to do. I underlined that to Sam, but he wouldn't stop. As I couldn't prevent him from doing it I did the next best thing and started doing it myself. So there we were, the three of us, walking along lighting lady fingers and throwing them here and there.

Now, if you don't know what a lady finger is it's a small firecracker that makes a lot of noise. On the list of dangerous fireworks it ranks down pretty low. In fact, it's almost as harmless as you can get when dealing with fireworks. Knowing how harmless they were we began to throw them nearer and nearer each other. Again, I didn't think this was a good idea, but since Sam wouldn't stop I joined in.

He had just thrown one to close to me for my comfort and I told him so. He began to mock me in his usual fashion, so I lit a lady finger and threw it to my side without even looking. Sam was walking right beside me so I had, for all intents and purposes, thrown it right in his face. He ducked with lighting reflexes and it missed him. He immediately began to mock me with even more vigor. Perhaps two or three seconds had gone by and my lady finger hadn't gone off.

“Ha! You can't even throw em at me right! Did you see how I dodged?”

“Yes, yes, but where did the lady finger go?”

“I don't...”

POW! It went off! Here it is important to note that Sam had thick, luxuriant, curly red hair. (I know it's hard to believe now, but I have pictures for any of you doubting Thomases.) As soon as the lady finger went off a rather thick smoke began to waft up from Sam's rich red curls. He hadn't dodged it at all, he had merely caught it on his head. We hadn't seen it because it had dropped so far down in that red mass.

For a moment or two Sam was trying to figure out whether or not he was on fire. Having something like that go off on your head can be very disconcerting. Joshua and I helped him in his inspection and at last decided that his thick curls were in no danger of conflagration. For the moment we had learned our lesson. He hadn't caught fire, but he could have. We stopped throwing fireworks at one another for the time being.

Now we fast forward a few years. Sam, Joshua and myself were at Mom and Dad's. It was early evening and we had a few fireworks. The porch light was on so we could see what we were doing. We didn't have any showy fireworks, just a few odd sparklers and what not. That's why we hadn't turned the porch light out. The fun for that night was in the burning of the fireworks, not in beholding their beauty. Sam got the bright idea that it would be awesome to light a sparkler from the bottom and let it burn to the top instead of the other way around. We all liked the idea and so set about it.

Here I have to describe the sparkler a bit as the particular type of sparkler we were using is getting more and more rare. Modern sparklers often have a long wooden stick to hold them by. As the sparkler burns along it burns up the stick and you are left with a smoldering end that is not especially dangerous. The sparklers we had as children had short metal rods to hold them by and a solid metal core. When the sparkler burned away you had nothing but a glowing piece of metal hot enough to weld with. (Even as a child I thought they were dangerous.)

The stem was short enough that Sam didn't want to hold it while we lit the bottom. Sparklers often have a bit more zest when you first light them then after they've burned for a second or two. In order to keep from burning his hand when it first lit he came up with a brilliant plan. He poured a small amount a gasoline on the ground and then stuck the sparkler in the middle of it. He set the gasoline ablaze and within moments the bottom of the sparkler had caught fire.

Many times in life we rush into something without thinking about all the ramifications. This was certainly one of those cases with Sam. He saw the sparkler burning bottom up and wanted to run around with it looking cool. So he did the logical thing, at least from his point of view. He stomped the gasoline out reached down and grabbed the sparkler with two fingers and tried to pull it out of the ground. His fingers slid up it as if they had no traction and he almost burned himself on the flaming sparkler bottom.

This only took an instant and Sam was staring at the sparkler in disbelieve for a moment before the pain hit him. At first he couldn't fathom how the sparkler could be stuck in the ground that firmly. The throbbing pain in his fingertips reminded him that metal that had just been in the middle of burning gasoline was often very hot.

He looked down at his fingers. There was a perfect little trough in each one. When he put his fingers together it made a perfect circular hole where the flaming hot sparkler stem had melted through his flesh. He put his fingertips together and looked at the porch light through them. A little circle of light beamed through his fingertips.

“Do you think they will stay this way?” He asked me.

“I hope not... I doubt it really, bound to heal...”

That was enough for that night. A little cold water helped wash away the pain as we went inside for the night. This simple lesson was learned: “Fire indeed hot!” Now, you would think something like that would burn itself into your memory (forgive the pun), but Sam still had more to learn.

Young men have many funny little traits. One of them is that they often destroy toys that they no longer intend to play with. They are often also obsessed with fire just as a general rule. Sam, Joshua and I were no exception to these rules. It was only a matter of time before we stuck destruction and fire together.

I remember it was a hot summer day. I had gotten bored as I often did. While discussing what to do someone came up with digging out all the old G.I. Joes and destroying them. It seemed like a generally entertaining thing to do, but how to go about it was the question. Finally we decided to setup a combat scene in Dad's garden area. He had tilled it but hadn't planted anything there yet, so it was a perfect empty battlefield.

We lined up the combatants and doused them with a healthy quantity of gas. Then we took one of the planes we had and poured gas on the nose of it. We lit the plane on fire and began the dialog.

“I've been hit! I'm coming in for a crash landing!”


We threw the plane onto the gas soaked battlefield and “whoof!” the entire squad went up in flames. Both sides were decimated. There was nothing left to do but bury the former combatants. After all, what was left was a burning puddle of goo. We were done forever with those toys. (As I said, young men have some strange tendencies.) Sam decided that the puddle was dangerous so he covered it with a little dirt.

Here I have to underline several points so that what happens next will make sense to the reader. First point: Burning plastic can continue to burn for hours even if you think it's out. Second point: Dirt is an excellent insulator. Third point: When one has been playing with fire one should always were shoes.

Sam almost always did wear shoes. It was some odd twist of fate that made him think that the day was to hot or that his feet needed air. I can honestly say that unless we were swimming he was almost always shod. I don't know why it didn't strike me as odd that day that he had decided to run around barefoot like I did. Just one of those odd twists in the fabric of life I suppose. Whatever the reason Sam was barefoot.

Roughly ten minutes after leaving our buried bubbling pool we decided to race around the yard. One of the locations the race was to go through was the nice cool freshly tilled field. Sam and I were running neck and neck. I think he had actually pulled out in front of me when it happened.

“Ahhhhh!” “Ahhhh!” “Ahhhh!” or something very much like that anyway.

Sam looked down to find that he had stepped in the hidden pool. Melted plastic clung to his foot as he looked down yelling. He actually kept a clear head all things considered. He ran for the hose. A cool blast of water soothed the pain and firmed up the plastic enough so that he could break it off the bottom of his foot. By the grace of God it had only burned him a little. It was probably on the cusp between first and second degree I would say. I suppose the dirt stuck between his foot and plastic provided some little protection.

Once he realized he wasn't burned that badly he got incredibly angry!

“Stupid place to leave a melted puddle of plastic! I'm moving it!”

I didn't point out to Sam that he had buried it there in the first place. I felt it would have been in bad taste. He had been burned and certainly had the right to vent. He stormed over to the shed and grabbed a shovel. With a determined stride he walked over to the puddle and scooped it up. He moved it to the further corner of the field and covered it with a little dirt. Now there are three points to make about this. However, I have already made them, so you may look back and review them if you feel you need to.

Sometimes it seems life really has a sense of humor. I know that some of you reading this feel like you know where it's going, but are saying to yourselves right now “No Way!” I can only humbly say in reply “Way.”

Yes, the melted menace safely buried under a thin layer of soil we resumed our game. The results?

“Ahhhhh!” “Ahhhh!” “Ahhhh!” Well, there or thereabouts.

Yes... he did.... We had run onto the other side of the field where Sam again trod upon the semi-liquid sea of pain. In point of fact, he stepped in it with the same foot. Screaming, yelling and cussing it was back to the hose. Another cooling rinse and hardened plastic broken away from the soul of the foot.

We decided at that point to let sleeping dogs lie, or melted plastic burn if you prefer. We went inside and rested until the flaming mass was inert. It is amazing how there are times in our life where we refuse to learn the lesson the first time it comes around. It's something to think about, it seems there may be a moral there somewhere.

I hope you all enjoyed this!


  1. This made me laugh until I cried.I remember some of this. Now I know why there is so much I can't remember! lol

  2. Yea, Sam was and endless fountain of laughs. I wonder how much I've forgotten. He is going to have to help me revive the coals of memory.

  3. How bout the time we took that hike, and you and Sam got into it over which way was the right way home. Then, we ran into all those briars, and Sam, being quicker to act than think, said, "instead of having to chop all these briars up I'll just run through!. Gimme your jacket."