A burning desire

Helen Row Toews

Why are human beings so captivated by fire? Specifically men, of course. Whether it be a campfire in the wilderness, tending a barbeque in the backyard, or nursing the perfect blaze within a wood-burning stove, it fascinates them. Is it the thrill of creation? An ability to control one of the five elements of nature? Or is it the daredevil aspect of it; dancing with danger, as it were? Let’s look at two examples of such behaviour and draw our own conclusions.

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The first tale is of a fellow I once knew, who liked — nay — loved building campfires. A man for whom it had become an art form. Dry leaves were lain at the base, twigs arranged in teepee formation over top, sturdier branches over these and larger logs on the outside. Then, with a gleam in his eye and a match in his hand, he would urge it up into a roaring conflagration before poking it eagerly with further sticks, urging it higher, and higher, and higher until the leaping flames of this raging inferno were licking the air 20 feet above us. (Slight exaggeration for effect).

One day I visited this same man in his home. I recall sniffing the air as I waited on the threshold. Was that a trace of wood smoke I detected on the breeze? I pushed the thought aside as I heard him loudly call from within, “Come on through. I’m a bit tied up at the moment.”

Strangely, the smell of smoke became stronger as I opened the door and proceeded down the hallway. My steps quickened. Had a pan of grease gotten the better of him? Did a cake set fire in the oven? Was he battling some other form of kitchen blaze? The poor fellow! I imagined him sturdily standing alone against a rampant fire; struggling to beat it out with two damp tea towels and a saucepan of mushroom soup.(It could happen). Good grief! I galloped round the corner in fear for his life, and skidded to a halt.

There he stood, fanning the flames of a mini campfire, built from a bristling bunch of toothpicks on the burner of his stove. A thin line of smoke rose into the air and through it he smiled sheepishly at me as he toasted an all-beef wiener over the hottest part. “Want one?” he asked.

My next illustration is far more recent, but no less outlandish. It involves my husband, our wood stove (a blameless participant in this story) and an article of men’s clothing. On this bitterly cold night I reclined upon the sofa, reading. Suddenly an unpleasant, acrid smoke assailed my nostrils. It quickly grew worse and worse; forcing me to abandon my cozy spot and seek the clean air of my bedroom. But not before questioning Tom, who had been fiddling with the fire.

“Oh that?” he said unperturbed, kneeling in the ashes on our hearth. “It’s my socks.”

“Your what?”I asked incredulously. “You burnt your socks? On purpose?”

“Yeah. They’re brand new, but got holes the first wear, so I thought I’d get a little warmth from ‘em one way or the other.”

I glanced beyond him to where a sizzling heap of polyester burned brightly in the flames.

You be the judge.

To find Helen online or to order her recent book, Prairie Wool, filled with more of these humorous tales, please go to myprairiewool.com and follow the link.

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