What is it about men and fire? Is there an instinctive need for heat rooted deep inside their troglodyte souls? When I was a little girl, I feared that my house would burn down because my brother’s favorite hobby at the time was lighting matches and flicking them behind the headboard of his bed.
During my teen years, my best friend and I were often badgered by a nutty gas station attendant with a creepy grin who gleefully referred to himself as a firebug. I kept expecting to see his face plastered all over the evening news for burn gin down the station where he worked.
It was no surprise that I found myself with not one, but two firebugs in my house. My son discovered at an early age the thrill of melting a plastic truck over a hot stove and was notorious for sticking sharp objects into electrical outlets just to see the sparks fly.
I never realized that my husband had firebug tendencies until several years ago during an unusually long “cold spell” in Florida (we hit a whopping sixty degrees). My neighbor convinced us that an outdoor fire pit would be the perfect entertainment feature for our backyard garden. We agreed and, within the course of a weekend, the masterpiece fire pit was built. Just the sight of it brought warm, fuzzy visions of friends and neighbors gathering around the fire to roast marshmallows and sip hot coffee laced with brandy.
Once the fire pit was completed, my husband looked for any excuse to build a fire (“Honey, it’s Bastille Day in France! Time to celebrate with a fire.” “Babe, the dog didn’t dig through the trash can or crap on the carpet! Let’s have a fire!”). He became obsessed with daily weather reports and checked the outdoor thermometer every ten minutes to see if the mercury level dipped lower than seventy degrees. Which explained the sudden disappearance of ice cubes from our refrigerator and all the puddles beneath the thermometer.
Those first few months spent around our fire pit were everything I had hoped for, but winter soon gave way to spring. By June, I reminded my husband that it was time to dismantle the fire pit and replace the area with bright flowers. He solemnly agreed, and off he went to the nearby garden shop for a fresh batch of spring flowers. An hour later he returned home with only one item—a giant, brown misting fan that rotated and spit water while we roasted in hell.
Unwilling to give up his newfound obsession with fire, my husband insisted that we gathered around the flames every weekend to share stories and roast marshmallows until they resembled lumps of coal on a stick. He dubbed those evenings “Funday Sundays” and plied his guests with plenty of beer and wine so that they’d sweat and learn to enjoy the heat as much as he did.
The smell of smoke brought the neighbors to our backyard just as my husband had hoped, but they were only there to make sure that our house hadn’t burned down in the July heat. What my guy didn’t know was that I had secretly waved our bedroom blanket over the flames to send up a smoke signal for help.
I thought hot flashes were wicked until I sat by a towering wall of fire in August. Those were known as double hot flashes, and they weren’t nearly as much fun as a double fudge cake. Those were truly the hot flashes from Hades that left me feeling as melted as the marshmallows I speared on a stick over the flames. Even with the misting fan blowing at the highest speed, my friends and I sat perspiring in a circle like people meditating in a sweat lodge.
The problem with fires in Florida during the summer months is that no firewood is available, so we had to get creative. My husband would burn anything to keep the fire going—twigs, pine cones, a roll of toilet paper, his credit card statements, and once, out of desperation, he raided a box of feminine products from under my daughter’s sink. It wasn’t long before our neighbors were scratching their heads in bewilderment because they couldn’t figure out what happened to all their lovely shade trees.
Whenever firewood was sparse, my husband called our nephew (a.k.a. the Mountain Man), who could easily beat the competition on any survival show. He had the uncanny ability to sniff out wood anywhere, and spotted it as easily as a hawk circling his prey. I swore this man carried an ax in one pocket and a machete in the other, because he learned at an early age to always be prepared. Both my nephew and my husband always became a little giddy after the holidays were over because of the abundance of discarded Christmas trees just waiting to be burned.
I’ll admit there was something soothing and intimate about sitting in the darkness with the crackle and pop of a fire. We huddled closer, shared secrets, and sometimes broke out into rounds of Row Row Row Your Boat.
Before winter hits again, I’ve come up with some new rules about fire pit etiquette for my husband. First, there will be no consumption of beans one hour before sitting around the fire. Anyone who has seen the movie Blazing Saddles knows why this rule must be strictly enforced.
Secondly, my husband may not burn foreign objects in the fire, such as the leftover “Fiesta Surprise” casserole, the hidden receipts from Donut World, Chocolate World, and Wine around the World, the baby’s dirty diapers after a bout of dysentery, or the kitchen garbage that someone was too lazy to drag out to the curb. Large pieces of cardboard should be outlawed as well since they lift up in a draft and hover like fiery bats from hell before flapping their way toward my hair.
My last and favorite rule is the one my nephew came up with, and for obvious reasons: WHAT HAPPENS AT THE FIRE PIT, STAYS AT THE FIRE PIT!