By P.D. Dickinson
The fall season arrived and, being a farming family, this was the time of year when we were getting ready for the coming winter season.
In those days, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived close by,so we were together much of the time sharing work. We helped each other with crops, gardens, preserved food for winter and kept our land groomed for the upcoming planting season.
On this fall day, Grandma, Mama and my two aunts were doing household chores and canning vegetables in the kitchen. Outside, my older sister, three boys — our cousins — and I were in the yard playing a game we called “Red Light.” In the field next to our home, Daddy, Grandpa and two of my uncles were cleaning out a fence row.
We paused our game for a moment when Daddy called from the fence, “You kids come here.”
We ran excitedly to see what they wanted. I’m sure the boys hoped they might get to wield one of the axes.
Daddy asked, “You kids want to have a wiener roast tonight?”
“Yes, yes!” we exclaimed.
“See the brush cut down in the fence row?” Daddy pointed down the fence line. “That’s what we’ll burn to roast the hot dogs tonight if you’ll stack it for us.”
“Yes!” we chorused.
One of our uncles showed us where to pile the brush and said to save any straight green sticks for skewers.
The boys made it a contest between one another. They delighted in devising different games in which they could contend against each other. When the wood pile was ready, the sunny day had begun to fade into the diffuse light of early evening. Brilliant
oranges and purples streaked the evening sky overhead.
We couldn’t wait for the grown-ups to ignite the huge stack of wood. After completing our wood pile, we kids helped our grandma and mothers set up tables and chairs near the clearing where the bonfire would burn. We heard the kitchen’s screen door smack shut and looked to see Mama coming out.
She was carrying a big platter mounded with raw hot dogs and bags of fresh hot dog buns. One of our aunts came out carrying a baking pan of steaming baked beans. Another carried a big bowl of fresh potato salad and a pan of baked macaroni and cheese. Grandma came out of the kitchen last bringing her homemade chocolate pies for dessert.
With everyone pitching in to help, all was ready so Daddy set the bonfire alight. The flames flickered to life, spreading among the tangle of smaller twigs and branches first. At last it flared brightly engulfing the entire woodpile. Our mothers helped each of us spear our hot dogs on the ends of long, sharpened green-wood skewers we’d salvaged.
The tang of the burning wood stung our nostrils a little as flames and sparks reached skyward. White wood smoke drifted like ghosts high into the blackness of the sky. Occasionally, puffs of red and orange sparks would chase after them and disappear.
My eyes followed the rising smoke into the sky above where millions of twinkling stars glittered. My attention was drawn back to the bonfire by a loud “pop” that erupted within the fiery embers.
Over crackling tendrils of fire the hot dogs swelled and plumped. They smelled meaty and salty. We watched the juices glisten and ooze out of red skins to eventually drip and sizzle in the fire. Once browned — or blackened as some folks liked them — to the desired degree, we proudly brought them to the table and nestled them in
As we sat relishing our meals, I glanced over at the grown-ups enjoying theirs. By the fire light, I could see the menfolk reared back in ladder-back chairs. They looked at the fence row they had chopped earlier. They discussed the past day’s work and the next day’s plans.
Daddy said, “You kids did a good job today. Look how nice and clean that fence row looks after you piled the brush for this wiener roast.”
Without awareness, we had helped with the day’s work. It was a job well done.
Portia Dickinson, who goes by the pseudonym P.D. Dickinson, will retell a childhood memory she shared with her family on the farm in this quarterly memoir.