By the age of eleven, I still hadn’t quite extinguished this burning obsession. Instead I found a more advanced way to harvest its glory. Gasoline. We played with the wonders of instant fire from the gas can. I was careful to keep the can away from the flames, but any object could be subjected to the fires of hades with a little gas.
Then one day I was educated in the science of gas fumes. My parents were gone. That was always the best time to conduct experiments. When home, they always interfered with good science. Earlier that day we found some cattails while exploring the pastures. We decided they would make great torches for playing in the dark. Try as we might, those things would not burn. So I decided it was time to break out the gas can.
I soaked the cattails in petroleum and shook off the dripping excess. I struck a match and it ignited with a big whoosh. I lit the other one and me and my friend ran through the yard pretending we were explorers in a cave. But soon the gas was expended and the cattails went out. No matter, that was getting old anyway. Time to graduate into something more adventurous.
I applied a little liquid energy to my cars and we set a match on the hill, and then rolled them down. It was the perfect car crash scene. They would wreck, roll over the cliff, and then ignite halfway down.
At some point we were burning something on the driveway. That was a safe place since concrete doesn’t burn. I poured a little gas and then placed the can safely up the driveway behind Mom’s car. They had taken Dad’s car, but Mom’s was still safe with us. I walked back down the driveway and lit the new entertainment, err, I mean experiment. It burned for a few moments and then something odd happened. A small wall of fire left the experiment and began walking up the driveway.
I watched in astonishment as the flames walked all the way to that gas can and caught it on fire. That’s good science. My hands on work gave me firsthand knowledge of how gas fumes travel. Unfortunately, the location of my discovery wasn’t the ideal place to conduct scientific explorations.
Seeing the can on fire, I had visions of Hollywood explosions. I yelled, “The gas can is on fire, run!” We fled to the back yard so we wouldn’t be engulfed in a fireball. But there was no ‘boom’. We waited a little longer, but still no mushroom clouds. I peeked around and saw the can still burning – right behind Mom’s car. I knew I had to do something, but I also was sure the pyrotechnic display could happen any moment. So I ran to the can, grabbed the handle, and flung it across the yard.
Flames swirled in the air as the can hurled away. When it hit, the fire burned with renewed vigor. The handle was very hot, so my fingers were already blistering. I ran inside to get some ice and my mind raced to come up with a firefighting plan. I decided to smother it with an old tarp. Once I cut off the oxygen, it went out quickly. I burned my fingers again on the hot metal can when I moved it upright. The adventure started off on a fun note, but my blisters dampened the festivities.
In case anyone is wondering, I didn’t grow up to be a pyromaniac. In fact, this was the height of my career. I didn’t burn many things after this day. But I do have one more flaming story to share.
Fast forward six years to when I was a teenager. For many years I had to endure mowing the lawn with a push mower. When I was younger, I tried to get out of mowing by having the mower break down. I’d pour water in the gas tank and then yank on the cord. I’d report my fruitless effort until my dad would go out and pull on it until it started. He would do a few startup tricks, but eventually the problem was solved when the water worked its way through the system and gas would start flowing again. The only thing I succeeded in doing was waste an hour of free time I would have had if I’d just started mowing.
Then one day my dad bought a used Snapper riding lawn mower. It looked used, but compared to a push mower, it was a beautiful sight. The vinyl seat had dry rotted and the prickly tears always dug into the back of my legs. So to make it bearable, I put an old flannel shirt on the seat. It worked like a charm.
The mower gave many years of good service, but after a couple of years, the fuel filter line began to leak. It was a very small leak, so we just kept using it with no problem. Then one day, while cutting the front lawn, I started feeling very hot. The odd thing was that the heat was only on my right side. Knowing the muffler was on that side, I figured it was the heat from the exhaust. But it kept getting hotter. While still cutting, I waved my hand in front of the muffler to test the air. Yep, very hot. So I looked down. To my shock, I was waving my hand in flames. The sleeve of the flannel shirt had dropped onto the muffler and caught fire. It then ignited the leaking fuel line.
I jumped off the mower. In those days, safety was not a concern, so there was nothing to kill the mower and it continued merrily along, cutting the grass without me. And it was heading for my dad’s rose bush. This rose bush had tiny red roses, but it produce dozens per stem. It was in full bloom. It was also gorgeous. I ran to catch up to the mower and flipped the accelerator lever off. But it was too late. The air filled with a burst of beautiful red rose petals. The mower emerged on the other side and only a tiny stump remained where the rose bush had once been.
No sense crying over spilled rose petals, the mower was still in flames. I ran for the house and burst into the kitchen. My dad startled at my sudden entrance, jumped and said, “What’s wrong.”
Not yet wanting to alert him to the tragedy of the rose bush, oh and the flaming mower, I stopped and took on a very calm demeanor. I casually reached to the top shelf of the cabinet, grabbed a box of baking soda, and said, “Oh it’s nothing.” I calmly walked to the screen door as I said, “It’s just the lawn mower is on fire.” After clearing his vision, I sprinted back to the mower and smothered the flames with white powder.
The mower was blackened, but none the worse for the wear. I resumed cutting and my Dad still laughs about my casual, “It’s just that the lawn mower is on fire,” comment.
My dad became a fireman during my youth. Is this the height of irony? Or did he feel the need to have firefighting skills, knowing he had a flaming lunatic in the house?
Fortunately for society, the coals of my passion for pyrotechnics burned out when sports caught my attention. Some desires are just meant to be extinguished.
Eddie Snipes 2012
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