| S’more - Good, Clean, Harmless Fun
String him up; it will teach him a lesson; was the solution that first came to mind when I thought about the guy who made the first s’mores. String the stupid son-of-a-bitch up by his balls. That was my first thought, but somehow it sounded too easy. No, this sick bastard, whomever he is, should be made to pay for his foolishness. Victoria would sure as hell agree. If she were speaking, that is. I should have listened to my brother Jack. He said this was going to backfire on me. Jack tried to warn me. Or, did he?
“Let me get this straight,” Jack said over the rim of his coffee cup, when I stopped by to pick up the kids. “You’re going to take Victoria, who has not been around kids much, never been camping, probably never gone more than twelve hours without a hot shower, and my five kids ranging in age from two to twelve, all five of them, and spend the night in a tar-paper hunting cabin with no electricity, no running water, no indoor plumbing of any kind, and this is supposed to show her how raising kids is no big deal?”
“You make it sound so absurd, Jack. O K, so Vickie’s an only child and isn’t exactly a tomboy, but she’s gonna love your kids, and when she sees what a great uncle I am and how much fun kids can be, I’ll make her see that raising kids isn’t the huge dangerous risk she thinks it is. We’ll grab some Mickey-Dees on the way, take a nice leisurely hike, gather around the campfire and make some s’mores. It’s a great idea, Jack.” Those were my exact words. “It’s a great idea.” What a dope.
“S’mores, huh? Oh, the kids love making s’mores. Have you ever made s’mores with kids, Kenny?”
“Well, not exactly, but how hard can it be?”
“Oh, it’s a piece of cake, Kenny. Nothing but good, clean, harmless fun. I think you and Victoria and the kids all playing house, having fun, making s’mores is just the ticket. Where’s the danger in that, right?” His smirk was unnerving.
“This stain is never going to come out.” Vickie whined, furiously rubbing the ketchup and mustard stain from the pant-leg of her white jeans. The rhythmic tick-tock of the ancient wind-up clock on the bottom shelf of the gun rack, and the hiss of the gas lamps hanging from the ceiling gave the cabin a lonely, secluded feeling. The mounted deer head on the wall watched, glass-eyed, unconcerned. “I don’t know why that four-year-old had to throw her pickle like that,” she complained.
“That four-year-old is Katie. She doesn’t like pickles on her hamburgers,”
“Why did you let them eat in the van, anyway? Look at this,” she demanded. “And I have chocolate shake on my butt.”
“It’s a stupid stain, Vickie. If we had waited to get here to eat, we would have missed our nature-walk. As it is we barely squeezed it in. It’s beginning to get dark already. Who wears white pants camping, anyway?”
“Oh, yeah. The nature-walk, would have been a shame to miss that.” She rolled her eyes and let out a long sigh, her shoulders drooping as she scrutinized her broken nail. “That stupid woodmunk made me break a nail.”
“It was a chipmunk, honey, a cute little chipmunk.”
“Well, whatever it was it scared the hell out of me,” she said, lips pursed in that irresistible pout. “Why can’t I wash my hair?”
“We only have what little water we brought with us. I told you that. We have to use it sparingly. You want coffee in the morning, don’t ya?”
“Well, I can brush my teeth. We have enough water for that, don’t we?” She took one more look at her broken nail, sighed, and tore into her bag to find her toothbrush.
The cabin door burst open. Josh, the oldest, at twelve, ran in and grabbed a hatchet hanging on the wall below the glass-eyed deer head, and headed back out the door.
“Hey, mister! Where you think you’re going with that?” I inquired as I followed him out the door. The others were rummaging around the hedge-rows for kindling wood.
“I gotta chop some wood for the fire, Uncle Kenny. It’ll be dark soon and we need a good fire with lots of coals for the s’mores.”
“Smoze, Unkin,” added Nick, the two-year-old, diaper hanging, face smudged with French fry grease and various remnants of the forest floor.
“Hang on there, Josh. You think that’s safe?”
“Sure, Uncle Ken. Dad lets me do it all the time.”
“Well, hang on. I got a better idea. Here I’ll show ya.” Holding a long, dried limb like a baseball bat I swung hard and smashed it violently against the trunk of a large tree, severing the long piece into two smaller, more manageable pieces. “See?” I instructed. “Now you can ‘chop’ the wood safely.”
“Cool! Thanks, Uncle Ken.” Josh swung hard. The limb cracked against the tree, separating cleanly. “Wicked cool! This is fun, Uncle Ken.”
I left him to carry on while I concentrated on building a fire. The kids had found only a small amount of suitable kindling, so I decided to facilitate the process with the help of a little kerosene from the tool shed. As I returned with a small cupful of the accelerant, I noticed Nick gingerly doing the toddler-shuffle across the rough, uneven terrain. Victoria stepped out of the cabin, vigorously brushing her teeth. After a most unladylike spit she looked up. Her face went white. I looked. Josh, some twenty feet from where Nick was shuffling, was just starting his swing. I saw the danger just a moment too late. “Josh! No!” I shouted. ’Crack’ went the limb against the tree.
“Kenneth!” was all Vickie managed, mouth foaming.
With the precision of a Cruise missile, a hunk of wood the size of a rolling pin went hurtling, end-over-end through the air, on a direct course for the toddler. It struck him with an ominous thud, square on the butt. He hit the dirt like a rag doll.
“Oh my God, Kenneth! The baby!” Victoria screamed like a banshee, toothpaste foam flying everywhere.
Fortunately, the diaper absorbed most of the shock and the pine needles made for a soft, if sudden landing. When I lifted him up he was spitting dirt and dead pine needles, but other than that he was fine.
All was well, but danger was beginning to rear its ugly head. Like a shadow in an alley, it was lurking, intimidating. Already, this good, clean, harmless fun had claimed its first victim.
I returned to my duties and carefully poured the kerosene onto the kindling.
“Fye-ooh, Unken?” Nicholas watched intently, new dirt prominently displayed on his face.
“You bet, Nick, old buddy. This is how you build a fire.” In my best Clint Eastwood style, I struck a kitchen match along the pant leg of my jeans and casually tossed it on the oil-soaked wood. Well, it turned out that the kerosene was actually gasoline; the fire exploded into being with a hideous roar and a blast of heat. The acrid smell of burning hair irritated my nostrils.
“Boom! Unken, Fye-ooh,” Nick's eyes were popping as he raised his tiny arms above his head.
“Yup. It is now, Nick.” I said, as I felt the hair on my forehead, curled, brittle, destroyed. My cheeks smarted; my eyebrows crumbled at the touch of my fingers. I was victim number two of this good, clean, harmless fun. This was going to be worse than I thought. We hadn’t even started the s’mores yet, and already the baby and I had paid a dear price. It looked as if it might be a long night.
The impending dusk left no time for self-pity. I needed to find and sharpen sticks for roasting marshmallows. Armed with my Swiss-army knife, and a very real sense of apprehension, I set about collecting and sharpening poplar sticks. As I whittled away, it occurred to me that I was about to fashion these sticks into what amounted to small spears and hand them to a bunch of excited, puerile savages. Did I mention a very real sense of apprehension?
Who the hell was this guy that concocted this madness: s’mores? Surely, he must have seen the potential danger in this macabre ritual. I mean, what the hell was he thinking?
How do I know it was a guy and not a woman? Because a woman would never be that stupid. She would have made them in a safe and tidy microwave, served them on little plates with napkins and a glass of cold milk. Not this idiot, though. No, he thought it wiser to gather several small children around an open fire; hand them long sharpened sticks topped with flammable marshmallows, and call it fun. Did he give any consideration to the hazards of supervising such a dangerous rite, or did he, the sick bastard, think the danger an integral part of the rite?
While working away on my third stick, I felt the stab of cold steel as the knife blade sliced through my finger. I watched as the crimson droplets tinted the soft, white pulp of the poplar stick a rosy hue. By the time I had finished, the ground at my feet was stained with sacrificial blood, my blood. I could only hope it would be the only blood shed this awful night.
"C'mon, uncle Ken. The fire is just right," the kids clamored with excitement.
"Just a minute, gang. Uncle Ken needs a Band-aid." The cabin door swung on its squeeky spring and slammed behind me. Victoria was sitting at the table in a nice clean sweatshirt, little bottles and files strewn about the table as she worked on her broken nail by the light of the gas lamps. She looked up and caught her breath.
"What happened to you?" She asked.
"What? Oh, you mean my new look," I said, touching my eyebrows lightly with the tips of my fingers, cheeks red and smarting. "Just a slight miscalculation," I said. "No big deal." Two large crimson drops splashed onto the front of my t-shirt. I put pressure on the bleeding finger with my thumb, as I rummaged through the medicine cabinet for a Band-aid.
"Oh my God, Kenny! Are you all right? You're bleeding. What the hell happened?"
"Oh, we're just having fun. Making s'mores." I wrapped my finger as tightly as I dared. "C'mon out with us. We're just about to start the show," I said as good naturedly as I could.
"No thanks. I'll stay right here," she said with superiority. "I've had all I can take of camping and stains and nature walks and children. Thanks, but no thanks."
"Suit yourself. But you're gonna miss the best part. You're gonna miss all the fun," no response, only a glass-eyed stare.
Now, I reasoned that the roasting of the marshmallows presented the greatest peril. So, only the four oldest, aged twelve, nine, six, and four were allowed to participate. The baby would have to rely on charity. From my lawn chair I delivered the standard safety lecture on the importance of keeping one’s stick down and pointed at the ground, to which there was much head nodding and grunts of agreement. Reluctantly, I gave the order to commence.
The scene unfolded like one from Lord of the Flies The light of the fire bathed the dark wood in an eerie glow and cast hideously menacing shadows among the trees as the children, harpoons in hand, jockeyed for position around the campfire. Survival of the fittest dictated that the four-year-old would lose her marshmallow in the fray.
“Fix it, Uncle Kenny,” she whined.
I smiled soothingly and said, “Let me see it, sweetie,” as I casually reached for a new marshmallow. As soon as the words left my mouth, I knew it was a mistake. With the speed and grace of a fencing master she thrust the foil at my face. I tried to parry the strike with my hand but I was no match for her. The rapier tip raked my face, leaving in its path a bright red scrape from cheek to ear. Wincing in pain, I snatched the stick away and for a moment, for one very brief moment, I considered running her “through” with her own lance, but a loud whoop from the others saved her.
Natalie, the nine-year-old, was yelling and blowing frantically on her flaming marshmallow, trying to extinguish the flame. "It won't stop," she cried in frustration.
"Shake it," her older brother advised.
"No." I started to say. "Don't sha..." I was too late. Like an angler with palsy she shook the stick violently. The burning mass of double flaming marshmallow left the tip of the stick with surprising velocity. Like a meteor entering the earth's atmosphere, it whooshed through the night air, on a collision course with the cabin door. Victoria, curious about all of the noise, chose that very moment to come out of the cabin. The fiery missile struck her square in the chest and exploded like napalm across the front of her sweatshirt. Frantically, she beat out the flames with flailing hands. With that deer-in-the-headlights look she stood there dumbfounded, surveying the ugly scene. Her chest and hands were smeared with charred and sticky marshmallow. Without saying a word she disappeared back into the cabin. We would not see her again until morning. The danger was just too much for her.
After that little episode the scene was considerably more subdued. Out of deference to Victoria, the kids called for a moratorium on roasting marshmallows. Try as they might, they could barely stifle their suppressed laughter as they sat munching on a snack of graham crackers and chocolate bars, They hadn't had this much fun in ages. They were oblivious to the jeopardy.
Sensing that the danger had finally passed, I began to relax and to reflect on the events of the evening. The baby had very nearly left this world as a result of my "safety" improvements. My eyebrows looked as if they had been penciled on, and my cheek smarted from sweat dripping into the fresh wound. My finger throbbed under a blood soaked Band-aid, and Victoria was quite possibly mentally and emotionally scarred for life. My thoughts immediately went back to the idiot who first conceived of this dangerous pastime. String the stupid son-of-a-bitch up! was my first thought. It serves him right that he remains anonymous to this day. In fact, if you ask me, I think it's decidedly to his benefit. I think justice would be better served if he were known, located, and if still alive, sentenced to a lifetime of community service, where-by he would be required to supervise an endless number of kids all making s'mores, and render first-aid to his victims.
"Good, clean, harmless fun." That's what my big brother said. That bastard!