by Baloney Bill
Campfire tradition has taken a dramatic change for Jon; it will take some getting used to.
The firepit sparked and snapped as it always had, stirring wonderful memories, memories he had missed so much. But tonight Jon was the only witness to the blazing, crackling backyard light-show before him. This was the first time he’d been out of the house in quite a while, and this was also the first time he’d started a fire since Victoria died.
Such a fine Saturday night this was, a cool and pleasant autumn evening, and, despite some reluctance to stir up the coals of the past, he felt duty-bound to resume a long-held family tradition. Soon after getting the fire started, though, it became painfully obvious that the experience was not the same without his best friend by his side. She had been such a good campfire pal, always great about sensing when the nighttime quiet was working its magic or when she needed to intervene and spark things up a bit by starting to talk. Of the two of them, she was the talker. But not in a bad way. She had a gift for always making all things better. Tonight, without her, there was only stone-cold silence.
Jon moved his chair back a bit from the heat of the fire. The grandkids often joked about how weird fire was; how it got your front side hot while your backside was still cold. They would laugh and once even made a dance out of it -- turning themselves around and around to equally distribute the heat. They were all city kids, after all, and the campfire was a novelty, a curiosity to them. He wondered how often the kids and grandkids might come to visit now that Vicky was gone. They had not been back since the funeral two months ago. Who could blame them? She added all the spice to their visits. And Grandpa Jon? He was just the quiet smiling guy cutting up the wood or building the fire. Victoria was the one who brought out the marshmallows, graham crackers, and Hershey bars and introduced the kids to S’mores.
The smoke was bedeviling him now. He got up and moved his chair a bit. The backyard campfire had always been the family gathering place especially on Saturday evenings, what Victoria liked to call the “Weekly Ritual of the Firepit.” When Murray and Ella were in their teens, they stopped coming out for the Saturday night fires. Victoria let their absence pass the first time, but the next time they missed, she wasted no time in asking them why they were brushing off this sacred backyard family time. They said they didn’t like their clothes smelling like smoke which may have been so, but Jon doubted it. He thought it more likely they just had better things to do than to sit in the backyard with their folks on a Saturday night. He, after all, had been a teenager once, too. Still, he always liked the smell of campfire smoke.
The smoke tonight brought back images of Murray and Ella when they were kids -- smiling, playing, sitting on his lap, or gazing into the fire while sitting in pajamas in their little Adirondack chairs. He always treasured the evenings the four of them spent together back here. He knew those days would not last forever, but they went by so fast. Incredibly fast. Those days truly were gone, never to return. He looked around, seeing as if for the first time, these familiar surroundings. So many empty chairs now. So much life had been shared here, but now this place had been transformed into just a glowing shrine to memories.
The smoke had really done a number on him. He just couldn’t seem to get his eyes to stop watering.