Campfire seasons jog memories. As one of 11 kids, there was never much money available for entertainment. As a result you learned to create your own amusement. That’s the way it was back in the 1950s.
Oh, we had ball games in pastures that often lasted for days. We picked elderberries by the meadow stream, explored hills, valleys and woods and did other things to stay out of trouble that living on a country farm exposed us to. But our favorite activity was the evening campfire.
Under each arm we’d drag long pieces of fallen tree branches down from the woods and Dad would make what he called a "Lazy Man’s" fire. With one end of the branch in the fire, as it burnt, Dad moved it up.
We always had marshmallows and hot dogs. Taking a thin, green, maple branch, we’d cut a point on the end, spear the hot dog and hold it over the glowing embers until it was thoroughly cooked. For a roll, we’d use a slice of bread wrapped around the cooked wiener, smother it with catsup or mustard, take a bite, lick our lips, give a great sigh and a "mmm" and enjoy.
Not Dad. With a knife, he’d split his frankfurter lengthwise and insert a slice of cheese. Then he’d wrap it with a slice of bacon and slowly roast this delicacy over hot coals until the bacon was crisp and a light crust appeared on parts of the wiener. When it was done to his satisfaction, he’d set it on a slice of bread and smear on hot dog relish; a conglomeration of sweet pickle relish, mustard, onion and who knows what else. Other times he’d add horseradish, take a big bite, wipe his lips with his tongue and give out a huge, contented "mmm!" Watching Dad eat a campfire roasted hot dog was entertaining in itself and each time we’d howl with laughter.
Other times he’d offer us a bite of his wiener that was always loaded with horseradish. Knowing we didn’t care for the bitterness of that overpowering, pungent, condiment, sometimes he’d slip a spoonful in our hot dog when we weren’t looking. When we’d take a bite, tears would well up in our eyes. Knowing he "got us," he’d chuckle lightly. But when we finally laughed, Dad would laugh just as loudly, satisfied in knowing his campfire shenanigans had us laughing and were entertaining.
With marshmallows it was different. We’d actually torch them and then wave the flaming treat in a circle until the fire was extinguished and all that was left was a gelled marshmallow held together by a scarred outer coating. Other times we’d hold it near the embers until the outer coating was browned and beneath it was a warm oozy treat.
But the biggest treat was the two songs Dad would sing. Looking back, I believe they were the only two he knew. "We are Indians" was something he himself might have made up.
Dad would sing, "We are Indians, Indians, Indians. We are Indians!" Those were the only lyrics we’ve ever heard. And the melody covered at least five different keys. Still, not bad for a man who was deaf. I never heard it sung by anyone else. From that, I suspect Dad may have written it himself.
The other, "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny," he’d sing to Mom. Those also were the only lyrics we ever heard. Dad would sing those same six words over and over until Mom, partly embarrassed, would proclaim, "Oh Frank, behave yourself. The children are watching." And we’d howl long and hard with more laughter.
With laws today governing what can and can’t be burnt outside, there’s little chance of those days ever returning. But what wonderful times we had and all because of evening campfires.
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