My mother is the single strongest, most loving and graceful person I've ever known. To this day I cannot tell if she is some kind of nature spirit or a coffee-addicted martyr. My whole life she has given when there should have been nothing left to give. She always had hands to hold a child's teary face, to fix a million meals, to tuck in the unsleepy, and to never strike in anger. By pure example she showed my brother and me the meaning of Love's immeasurable well, with any reference to such downplayed as an act of necessity. So it was no surprise it was the same when it came to the fire.
It was a muggy day, the kind of day which seemed to fuel my father's a) frustration, b) testosterone, and c) confusion about his youngest boy. I don't remember what I was doing at the time. I just remember my father's hackles raised in search of me. Upon finding me, I was to learn that a great chore needed to be completed, a task of titanic proportions, and one whose existence would test not only my strength and courage, but my merit as a human, and, more importantly, as a man. He grabbed a pair of work gloves and headed toward the woods behind our house. Snake den? Worse? Further down the hill was too steep for anything I could think of that would need to be done. Past that was the creek, and he never concerned himself with anything there. Only I did that. My secluded cloister. My sanctuary from the insecurities of school life, the hollow victories at home lay at those waters, down just a ways to the second waterfall. A ledge on which I sat many an afternoon listening to the million sounds from all around, trying to single them out, in vain, at the same time trying to feel a part of all of them. Just trying to feel a part.
We stopped not twenty feet from the treelike, where he pointed beside the derelict treehouse we had started five years ago. It looked like a gnome's hermitage, windowless, and far too heavy for any branches in the vicinity. The idea had come to us shortly after moving to Kingston Springs from Nashville, and the bucolic image of fireflies and clubhouses for the boys grew strong in my father. So we built it, and we built it poorly. And only upon its completion did we look around and wonder where the hell we thought it was going to go. Every time we entered the woods, there was this look on my father's face when he saw it. Very small and some unnamed thing between shame and shock. He pointed to the huge pile of brush that had been created during the summer. Branches cut and stacked from cutting firewood (why we chose to cut firewood during the absolute hottest part of the summer is still beyond me. Heatstroke Central) and from clearing out the woods to make it more pedestrian.
"We need to get rid of that brush. Burn it. Stay with it and make sure it doesn't spread. Bring that hose down here. We don't need no forest fire."
Fire. I can get behind that, I thought. I brought the hose down and soaked the surrounding area, lest my pyro tendencies got the best of me. He left me to it to grind some valves for the Duster. I gathered some things and took up my post to get this job, by God, done.
About an hour later, my father clomped back down the hill to check on things. His face screwed up when he got within eyeshot. Suddenly, I could feel heat coming from more than the flames in front of me.
He mustered enough control for a single question: "What are you doing?!"
...to be continued