The day the county tells me I can’t have a bonfire or chickens in my yard is the day I pack my bags and relocate to . . . Mount Doom or Cuba or the Florida outback or Alaska. I haven’t decided yet. Country living is three things: poultry, walking outside in the dead of the night in your **scanties, and—of course—fire (brush, trash, and bon.)
Everyone burns stuff in our neighborhood. Mr Medina, next-door neighbor and three-legged animal collector, occasionally lights up a bonfire that smells like a ritual goat sacrifice, and when he’s over there stoking his strange flames of yowling stink I have forbidden the grand children to breathe deeply, but this is the country and so we live and let burn. It’s our way.
The only real fire etiquette rule around here is “Thou shalt not burn down thy neighbor’s anything.”
So when Heather yelled, “Holy smokes! Phillip’s set the giant pile of bone dry sticks on fire,” and I spun around in time to see a fire shooting two stories in the air with flames licking at the brittle edge of a small stand of gasoline filled pine trees next to the chicken coop, I admit to being a bit unprepared.
My son-in-law is like that. He’s an Eagle Scout. He has a merit badge for setting things on fire and then putting the fires out with urine.
Running to assess the potential for neighborhood conflagration, I ran to the bonfire only to be driven back by the force of the heat, as a four-year old wandered by to throw a random broom into the fire. Phillip appeared from my barn with a handful of scrap wood used for picture frames and staking tomatoes.
“Hey, Mister, where’re you going with that wooden stuff?"
The Eagle Scout didn’t slow down. “You’ll thank me some day."
I doubted it.
A six-year old dragged a perfectly decent wooden footstool with only a few spider webs on it towards the fire pit. I started to argue with the six-year old about the value of furniture restoration and refurbishment when I heard Phillip yelp.
“Mr. Randy’s field is on fire.” My other neighbor’s field was, in fact, on fire. I ran for the end of the hose, sensing more than seeing Phillip’s race for the spigot.
“Hit it!” I yelled, thinking fire hose; instead I got Cub Scout weeing on a campfire from a garden hose that was nowhere near long enough.
“Seriously Phillip, must have more water! The flames have jumped the property line.”
I watched flames nibbling at clumps of newly mown grass, eating their way towards Mr. Randy’s own burn pile, Mr. Randy’s barn, and Mr. Randy’s dirt digger. That’s what the kids call a front-end loader—a dirt digger. Isn’t that cute? Yea, well, we almost set it on fire.
Then Phillip cut my water off entirely. I stared in disbelief at the end of my DRY hose, as Phillip raced from spigot to spigot in a convoluted hose re-distribution plan.
“Phillip! You are a terrible fireman! And I’m not kidding.” Fire continued to spread as Phillip popped out from behind the chicken coop like a cork out of a bottle dragging an auxiliary hose.
“Here. Screw these together.” Phillip flung hose at me and disappeared. I didn’t want to tell him that I had a hard time screwing hoses together even when things weren’t on fire, but panic gave me strength and the threat of being sued for burning down my neighbor gave me dexterity beyond my own.
Luckily we’ve had a wet spring and summer and Mr. Randy’s field was not the tinderbox it could have been, and water flowed eventually in sufficient strength and straightness, and so the dirt digger was saved—and so was our home owner’s insurance deductible.
And the minute the county tells me I can’t burn down the neighbor’s barn—almost, pictures featuring those “unspeakable” ex-husbands, ancient tax records, raggedy scanties, or old algebra homework, I’m out of here—just don’t know where yet.
Linda (Fire Starter) Zern
** Scanties: A southern word meaning clothes traditionally worn under the clothes worn on the top; clothes you can wear in the middle of the night outside in the country because no one can see you unless there’s a fire somewhere.