Bonfires when I was a kid were our version of a night out. Every weekend we'd gather friends and family together at The Smith Pond and light it up.
Laughter would rip through the back woods and remind our parents that we were only a shout away. Feeling invincible and curious we'd play fearlessly. Running and hiding, waiting to be found. Tree forts, treasure hunts and Marco-Polo.
There was always something to do. Climbing trees, catching frogs or fishing could cure any boredom. We'd dance in the rain because we knew it meant the night crawlers would gather after dusk. Scrambling barefoot with flashlights, we'd pluck them from the dirt for fishing. I wonder sometimes how my mother got threw it. Bruises, cuts and concussions from falling out of trees or slipping in the creek. Our injuries were more common than mosquitoes.
Washing up when I was young was jumping in the pond. An easy way of staying just a little longer was running dripping wet to the sandbox and acting like we didn't know we were about to leave. Sometimes our intentions were so obvious that we got a tongue lashing, but our actions inevitably forced our mothers to tell us to hop back in the pond and rinse off. You'd think they would have caught on to that eventually.
The sound of ringers as horseshoes hit the stake always takes me back. Most of my earliest memories of my grandfather was him teaching me to play. Though he'd say that everyone has their own technique, I didn't. I was terrible, I never got very good at horseshoes. I sure love trying though. Now that he's gone I miss his kind words more than ever. I try to write things down as I remember them, scared to death that they will fade from my memories like smoke from the bonfire.
As the sun made way for the moon, sounds ricocheted through the woods and over the hill. Sparks rose to the heavens reflected off the pond and gave the illusion of infinite light. The fire screamed, popped and cracked, echoing through the trees, sometimes inviting neighbors. Uncles laughed and bickered about politics, sports, or who had the better way of doing things. Aunts chased kids, soaked ears of corn, babysat pies from our filthy fingers and passed out Mason jars for our fireflies.
Gramma hugged and kissed all of our booboos. She constantly reminded us how blessed she was to have all of us. Her love is the strongest force on Earth. Our cousins would come up with their guitars, fiddles and bongos. We'd sing and dance until the fireflies dispersed. Such beautiful times were so normal back then.
Sitting on the end of the dock for hours with our toes in the water, my cousin and I would toss small stones into the darkness above us. We called it fishing for bats. The bats would swoop down, squeak, and dart at them. We were so amazed at how angelic and precise, yet how neurotic they were. They never missed gripping the small stone and dismissing it in the same second. Nature's entertainment was much more stimulating than television or video games.
Laying on top of picnic tables or in the soft dewy grass we made wish after wish on the relentlessly brilliant shooting stars. They seemed to sketch across the navy canvas sky flashing split seconds of fine art. Living on the hill allowed the moon to blanket the pond with its silky beams uninterrupted. Nature's night light. We'd dream about who we would be. Where we'd go. We'd make promises that we'd be best friends forever and still do things like this. It's funny how things change and people grow apart. Some of us have moved and some have roots deeper here than the old pond.
Falling asleep daydreaming these things was perfect. In half slumber we could feel our fathers' gentle arms cradle us to the car. There's something special about summer nights and bonfires. Burning memories and love that will leave a scar on the grass for generations. As precious as a baby's giggle or mother's kiss, these things may be in the past, but they will never be forgotten.
Ivory Fishgold is a Sinclairville resident. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org