As a young boy, fire fascinated me. I can remember laying below a natural gas heater and watching the flames dance on the glowing ceramic tiles inside. At our house on Oxford Lane, we didn’t have central heat or air. Our heat came from a metal heater mounted in the corner of the room.
My cousins came over and we played for a while, but when they started doing something boring, I laid down in front of the heater and played with the flames. I found that when I blew the flames, one side went out briefly, and then it would make a whooshing sound as the holes in the burner reignited. I blew it out again. And again. And again. I continued this game until I blew too hard and knocked all the flames out. They didn’t reignite.
Well, that was fun while it lasted. But with my entertainment out cold, I returned to playing with my cousins. About a half hour later, my aunt and mother caught a whiff of gas and walked in the room. “What’s that smell,” Mom asked?
Oh nothing big. Just Eddie’s explosive form of self-entertainment.
They threw open the doors and windows, sending the room into an instant chill. Since there were open flame heaters in the other rooms, I’m amazed it didn’t ignite and blow our little flaming behinds into the neighbor’s yard. Yeah, I kept my guardian angel very busy.
One of my earliest memories involved flames. I was around four years old, so it must have been when we lived in Texas. I have a number of memories from that time of my life. When it rained in our neighborhood, crawfish would invade any puddle they could find. I don’t remember many of the circumstances surrounding this miracle, but I do remember taking a plastic sand bucket and collecting them out of the muddy holes. I never knew where they came from, but it was fun catching them. I also learned very quickly to grab them behind the arms with the pinchers. They would reach their pinching arms out, but were helpless to reach little fingers if caught correctly.
I also remember catching green lizards. There was one on our fence, so I ran over and grabbed him. That little bully tossed his head back and bit my finger. And it hurt. I dropped him and little red dots of blood went around my finger in the shape of his jaws. Maybe I should stick with something safer, like a crawfish. Or playing with flames.
We also had the naughty little flies that refused to let go. I don’t know what they were, but they would latch onto my shirt and refused to go away. They held on so tightly that when I pulled them off, their legs stayed hooked in my shirt.
At the end of the street was a creek. I played there with a neighbor and found a hole on the bank. I looked in the hole and saw movement. As I watched, something drew closer to the surface. I couldn’t decide whether to run, or stick around to see what it was. I was four, so curiosity always won out. To my delight, a toad came into view and crawled right out of the hole. It was like a gift from heaven! I caught the toad and took it home as a pet.
On the way home I heard another angelic sound. The ice cream truck was coming! I ran in the house and asked for money. Mom said, “No.”
I should have dropped the idea at that point, but the angelic tune was growing closer. And it was calling my name. Then I remembered something wonderful. On the shelf in the hall was a plastic bin with spare change. I fished around and grabbed some coins, then headed out the door.
Other kids were already gathered around, so I joined the line and bought a treat. I handed my wad of coins to the ice cream man, he said I didn’t have enough. “I’ll be right back,” I said and ran back into the house. I grabbed a few more coins and came back. Apparently this was enough and I returned with my treat. However, my second trip to the coin stash drew some unwanted attention. My mother was standing at the driveway looking at me. “Where did you get that money?” she demanded.
My mind raced for a quick plan of action. I thought of the perfect alibi. I saw my friend from next door licking his treat and rushed over to whisper into his ear, “Say you bought this for me.”
Can you believe the lack of loyalty of my pal? He refused to say it. In retrospect, I’m not so sure my mother would have bought the alibi anyway. It might have been the clanking of coins in the hallway, or the fact I ran and whispered in my friend’s ear. But something gave my plan away. And to make matters worse, my mother took the ice cream away from me and tossed it into the trash. What could be a greater atrocity than to waste a perfectly good ice cream? My heart ached at the thought.
At this point, you might be asking what this has to do with flames. Nothing. It just jogged my memory so I thought I’d grab those fleeting thoughts before they continue their journey in my mind and pass onto the realm unseen. Sometimes they don’t return for a long time. Some of the more traitorous memories never return at all. So, my rambling is justified.
During my four year old Texas adventures, I felt a burning desire to explore the flames on the gas stove. As was often the case, Mom didn’t seem willing to let me play with the flaming stove eyes. At some point after this I woke up in the middle of the night. After a quick trip to the potty, I noticed the lonely stove in the kitchen. The house was quiet and I realized it was the perfect time to examine that stove.
I turned on the eye and lovely blue and yellow flames curled upward. Let’s put the flames to the test. I ran to the paper towel holder, pulled off a square, and rolled it up. I stuck it to the eye and it ignited. I held it up, admiring the orange beauty as it burned. Soon I felt the heat on my fingers and knew it was time to put it away. I lifted the plastic lid of the garbage can and tossed the rest of the paper towel in. Being safety conscious, I turned off the stove before going back to bed.
The next thing I knew, the bedroom light scorched my eyes. My dad said in a very stern voice, “Get in the kitchen.”
What could this mean? I staggered out of bed and down the hall. When we arrived to the kitchen, I saw a melted plastic garbage can, still smoldering below a black wall. Goodness. What happened to that can, I wondered.
Dad pointed to the molten plastic and said, “Did you do this?”
“No,” I said. I was sure I had nothing to do with this because when I went to bed just a short time ago, it was in perfect shape.
Apparently, putting cause and effect together didn’t connect in my mind until later in life.
(Continued next week)
Eddie Snipes 2012
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