The Rites of Almost-Summer
The Rites of Almost-Summer have been accomplished. Tommy's is open and the first backyard fire has been lit, enjoyed, and doused.
Here in our little town, we have a local joke that gets more knowing nods than it does smiles.
"Summer was beautiful last year. It came on a Wednesday."
Growing up in Iowa, we'd go to decorate the gravesites on Memorial Day with fresh cut peonies from the big flower patch by the Summer House. Up here in the Northwoods we enjoy peonies on the 4th of July.
There is a general Rule of Thumb for when Spring officially starts. There has to be no frost on the windshield for at least 8 days in a row. (Yeah, I hear it, too - that Beatles song. "8 Days A Week". It's OK. It just means you're old...-er.)
Sometimes Spring coincides with the Rites of Almost-Summer.
The Rites of Almost-Summer happen around Memorial Day. Tommy's is this little mom'n'pop walk-up burger place on the corner across from the old Railroad Depot. They've remodeled this year by adding a couple of small picnic tables under the eaves. Now there's three ways to enjoy arterial coagulation - standing up at the outdoor counter, the traditional sitting on the curb, or the new picnic tables. Even with the Golden Arches only 2 1/2 blocks away, Tommy's (previously the "Holiday Spot") has been holding it's own for years.
You know Summer's comin' when you can get a Tommy Burger with a side of nachos, finish 'em off while curb seating, and your biscuits haven't frozen.
The other Rite is that first backyard fire.
It should be pointed out that this is an intentional fire, confined to a specific area, so as not to be confused with the Rite of Fall, that autumnal burning of the leaves which ends up scorching a large portion of yard - or the County, depending on wind and drought conditions.
I sat outside watching the fire as night settled over the Little-House-On-The-Corner. The Wife was paying the toll for a weekend of gardening with a hot bath and an early collapse. TechnoBoy was horizontal parade-rest preparing for his pre-dawn work hours at the Store.
It was just me and the fire. And an uninvited swarm of first-crop mosquitos. I savored the smell of wood smoke and DEET while sipping the Elixir of Knowledge, staring at the flames. The sounds of the occasional dog barking at deer strolling the neighborhood and the hum of sporadic traffic on the main drag accompanied the quiet pop & crackle of the fire pit.
The best part of a fire? It's commercial-free. There are no bodily problems that need pharmaceuticals that cause more bodily problems. No new and improved formulas that insist I need to look like young, thin people. Which, if I'm honest, wouldn't be a bad thing.
But with a fire, I have the chance to just sit and think.
About everything and nothing.
Halfway through the Elixir, I remembered what on guy told me about winter. He said back in the day, the Elders called winter "Story Time". It was when the stories of the People, the families, were handed down to the next generation.
Growing up we didn't have "the fire". We weren't an outdoorsy bunch. We had sofas, chairs, coffee, and family. I remember sitting around the table in Aunt Vi's kitchen, listening to Uncle Joe and Dad swap stories about WWII. No blood and fighting. Just the fun, quirky stories that kept them sane during the insanity of war.
They also had great stories about growing up in a small town during the Depression. Stories full of high jinks and mischief, bigger-than-life characters, and semi-truthful outcomes.
Looking up past the streetlights glow, I recognized a couple of constellations. Imagine all those fires over the centuries, all those nights that were truly night. Just the stars, the moon, and the glowing faces around the fire.
All those stories shared, connecting the present to the past.
The flames disappeared into the glow of orange coals as the last pull of the Elixir of Knowledge uncovered a question.
Where are the fires of today? The "fire stories"?
There's so much information available. Kilobytes in nanoseconds. But the stories that tie us to who we are and why we are - where do we get those?
That's what I thought, too.
Fire stories come from folks who love us, stories shared by investing that most precious of currencies - their time.
I doused the fire with an ice cream bucket of water, listening to the hiss of steam as the yard went dark. My jean pocket began to vibrate and chime. Digging out the phone I saw a text from the DAGU (Daughter All Grown Up). She'd sent some new pictures of the still-under-warranty granddaughter, complete with thumb-typed commentary.
What great timing, eh? Another fire story...