The Smell of a Campfire: a Travelogue of Home

 It wasn’t until the Monday morning that I took the time to walk around… extended family and friends had left. My nephew was asleep… four nights of sleeping by a campfire had taken its toll, my dad was busying himself with horses and garden. It had started raining Saturday night after midnight… drizzled through Sunday. A low fog hung on the hills of my parent’s farm. Walking around the “old” barn I snapped pictures with my iPad, the one above is of an old fence post… the ceramic insulator dripped from the previous night’s moisture. Donkeys, horses, goats had been kept behind this fence once… now deer, squirrels, rabbits, field mice, and the flotsam of nature moved through, over, and under it. The donkeys and horses have been moved… the goats gotten rid of.

I had arrived on Wednesday afternoon and immediately went to assisting to prepare for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. This included more supervising of two 14 year-old boys than actual manual labor on my part. When I was 14 and lived on this farm I worked under the gaze of my 44 year-old dad… now he is a 71 year-old grandfather and content to let others get stuff done… as long as they leave his garden and horses alone. Grass and weeds were cut, trash picked up… seems 30 years of living on the farm had resulted in a number of things being cast about on the ground… mainly feed buckets and sacks… errant cast-offs of what once was more working farm than hobby farm. By Saturday morning the general clean-up had turned specific… party tents were erected… tables and chairs arranged… flowers and lights placed around by the vision of my 16 year-old niece who had decided how she wanted it decorated for her grandparents’ 50th anniversary. The rest of us followed her directions… she had actually made a list… more than the rest of us could claim… never argue or contradict a person with a list.

In between the general and specific preparations for the party, I managed to get some fishing in… I caught nothing… my fish catching skills have always been suspect. My parents like to fish… it wasn’t until I was older that I realized that one could mix fishing and beer drinking could be combined… my parents are teetotalers… but this fishing trip was dry as a bone. My nephew, my dad, and another 14 year-old boy were my fishing companions… the two boys seemed more interested in seeing how many small Breams they could snag over the amount my dad snagged. Competition seemed important to them… I walked around the pond randomly casting and wondering how one gets a life like this everyday… getting old and retiring in the country is one way… another is to return to the age of early teenage years and spend the summer with indulgent grandparents… neither is the life I lead right now.

Other than fishing, I was fortunate enough to make three “runs” to Wal-Mart in town… adventuresome on many levels. This is the new Wal-Mart… it sports groceries and a plethora of items that seem necessary in our modern world of consumerism. The “old” Wal-Mart was smaller… and up the road (which is actually more southern on the road… but using “up the road” denotes the way one would head) near McDonalds… staples of the cruising route of youth. Circle through McDonalds’ parking lot… exit through the old Wal-Mart parking lot… then out on the main road and head toward the square… you could loop the square or head a little farther and turn around at a gas station. Along the route your fellow teenage friends would be parked… primarily in the old Wal-Mart parking lot bullshitting and imagining the day when you could move out into the world. This old stomping and dreaming ground has moved though… the new Wal-Mart shines like a beacon. The new Wal-Mart sells shiny hamburger-emblazoned t-shirts… the two 14 year-old boys both agreed that only a goober would buy and wear one.

The trips to town did allow me to get text messages that had been bouncing among the stars… my parent’s live on a farm with no cell coverage… land line and Internet is the only way to communicate with the world. My iPhone would start dinging like crazy once I got close to town… signaling that I had returned to what one would consider a more modern era… with new Wal-Mart and all.

In reality, the days home “celebrating” my parents’ anniversary was an excuse for me to burn some wood. My nephew and I considered it our duty to run through as much as possible… my dad, his grandfather, would mumble every now and then about us using too much wood… when we weren’t around he would slip a piece of wood on the fire to keep the coals and embers going… he wasn’t fooling anyone, he had passed this campfire gene on to the two of us. Nightly, we would throw the cots and my mother’s quilts out … build up the fire and settle down under the stars… if either of us got chilly one would rise and put more wood on… such is the easy life when you have no place to go or be… other than where you are. Sitting around wood burning was the primary activity of the weekend. My dad sat by three smokers cooking pork butts that magically turned into pulled pork sandwiches at the party. He was almost tribal elder-like in the way he hovered around the smoke telling stories to us “boys”… passing on tradition… later he was joined by his brother who added to the elder-status of the stories… slight interpretation was needed… they never really finished a sentence or a paragraph… the stories were meant to entertain… we were entertained. At one point, generations of the “men” of my family sat around the fire from 8-71 years of age… lies were told, bullshit was spread.

The party, the anniversary itself, felt a little bit of an afterthought. Over a hundred guests arrived to eat and catch up. A bluegrass band played in the background… a magician strolled around making balloon animals and hats… I had wanted a clown… a clown was voted creepy… my mom and I decided to go with the magician… it was total entertainment. It did not match the feeling of the fire and family though. My parents cut their cake… I gave a speech… friends and family mingled.

Sunday it drizzled and we had to collapse tents in the rain. Folding chairs and tables were returned to the volunteer fire department… on the return trip they were tied down… when I picked them up I had cast caution to the wind and hoped I wouldn’t cause an accident with a trailer bounce and a flying chair.  Rain and drizzle continued all day… my nephew and I decided to head indoors for my final night there… campfires don’t burn as well. Monday morning was the only time I was alone to take a quick walk and look around. It was quiet and green… rain and mist dripped off everything. It felt good to have the moment and contemplate the weekend and realize that time with family is both refreshing and draining. Petty and important run together amongst the dialogue of family. I was back in DC by Monday evening… as I unpacked my bag I was hit by the smell of smoke and campfire… I smiled.


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