When my mother calls out that it is supper time we run to the table and shovel food into our faces as fast as we can.
“Slow down and chew your food or you won’t be going anywhere. There’s no need to act like savages.”
“Mom! We want to get down there, the fire is startin’ soon!” I plead back at her.
“The fire is still going to be there after you’ve got your supper eat.” She says as she cuts my little sister’s food into bite-sized pieces.
My father, who attempts to turn everything into a history lesson, launches into a story about Guy Fawkes and my brother and I mumble answers about British parliament and conspirators through mouths full of tomato sauce covered meat-loaf and mashed potatoes.
We take extra care to chew thoroughly each mouthful of supper so that mom doesn’t try to keep us indoors any longer than needed, exaggerating the chewing motions any time she happens to glance in our directions.
As soon as my plate is cleared I blurt “Good supper mom!” and dash away from the table and down over the stairs. I wander around our basement looking for my winter jacket.
“MOM! Where’s my old coat?” I yell.
“It’s in the box of clothes in the laundry room. Bring up your brother’s things too, and make sure you put on rubber boots and splash pants, it’s not fit up on that field.”
I tear all the folded clothes out of box in a flurry of 11 year old excitement, scattering sweaters, coats and last years winter wear all over the floor. I grab coats for myself and my brother and scramble up to the porch where Danny is standing on the steps, rummaging around the closet shelf in search of mitts and hats.
I pull on my jacket, it’s a hand-me-down from my cousin and because it’s a boy’s jacket, mom has designated it as my “outdoor coat”, the one that I can destroy with mud and filth and that must never be worn to school. Danny tosses me a pair of mini gloves and dads blaze orange hunting beanie as he pulls his black and green Ninja Turtles toque down over his little boy-monkey ears.
While mom is helping my brother put on his splash pants, I go to my room and stuff my jacket pockets full of yellow and orange suckers, rockets candy and Oh Henry bars. Gloriously I find one left over peanut butter cup that has somehow managed to last the 5 days since Halloween. I zip the overstuffed pockets shut so the candy doesn’t fall out and go down to the porch where mom tucks our mittens into the sleeves of our jackets and sends us out the door.
Outside it is starting to get dark. The air is cold and smells like mud, rotting leaves and the wood smoke pouring out of nearby chimneys. Before we go down to the bonfire we must keep with our yearly ritual; I pick up the pumpkin on our doorstep and carry it awkwardly out to the road where my brother counts backward as I lift it high above my head and throw it to the ground. It’s orange flesh would be soft if not for the cold evening air already starting to freeze its insides, and it splits into three uneven pieces leaving a cracked grin smiling up at us.
“That was cool!” Danny shrieks as he hops up and down in excitement.
Across the road our cousin D.A. comes out of his house and we all exchange excited greetings before taking off down the road, rubber boots pounding against the hard-packed mud of our unpaved road.
We can see the orange glow of the fire lighting up the sky behind our Uncle Fred’s house and the trail of flankers flying hundreds of feet into the air. The buzz of a chainsaw grows louder as we near the enormous hill of combustible material set ablaze in the center of the field. My uncles are busy cutting felled trees in to manageable sized logs to throw onto the pile. There are hundreds of wooden pallets salvaged from businesses, green boughs, scrap wood from building projects and even an old couch, but the most wondrous to us are the hundreds of rubber tires stacked nearby. We run over and begin climbing about on them, scrambling up the steel belted sides to get the highest perch on the stacks eight tires high. I watch my aunts lugging huge metal pots and grocery bags from their houses up to my uncle’s shed, which is equipped with a wood stove where they will prepare hot chocolate and hot dogs to disperse to the crowd that gathers to watch the monolithic fire.
The boys from
Travis, a kid that regularly shows up in our neighbourhood looking for a game of basketball or road hockey, remarks on the size of the bonfire.
“This is da biggest bonfire in
Other kids concur, but a few argue. A kid in a L.A. Kings hockey jersey with the number 99 emblazoned across the back retorts.
“No i’s not Trav, da fire down in da bean is bigger than dis.”
“Yeah? How come your not down dere den, hey?” Travis asks as he gives the kid a small shove. We laugh in agreement and the kid mumbles something about not being allowed to go down there.
Uncle Karl comes over and picks up a tire in each hand and heaves them toward the fire where they bounce and roll, weaving across each other’s path into the flames. One is thrown with a little too much force and exits the other side of the fire, flames trailing behind it. We cheer as someone runs after the tire and ushers it back toward the pile, rolling it with a stick. We marvel at how close they get to the flames when we are more than 30 feet away but can still feel the heat prickling our faces and some of us have abandoned our winter jackets.
“Get down offa dem tires ye hooligans, next t’ing der all gonna fall on ye.”
We grumble and shuffle down to the ground. I hear a small voice wailing.
“Sissy! Sissy I fell in! Halp!”
I bounce up over a stack of tractor tires stacked like stairs to look into the high stack where my brother’s face is peering up at me, stuck in the hole in the center.
“Danny, your some stunned, jus’ use the inside like a ladder and climb up b’y!”
“I can’t!” He wails. “I don’t have enough room to move!”
Colin and Dougie, two kids I go to school with, help me lift the tires and replace them on the stack next to us and I pull my brother up.
“Get down out of it Danny, your too little to be up here.” I say using all the power of an older child to banish him to the lower stacks of tires. We have already forgotten Uncle Karl’s previous warning and are climbing back up the stacks.
The crowd is growing larger. There are adults and children gathered all around talking and laughing, fathers with little babies sat upon their shoulders to keep them out of the mud and mothers clustered together in little packs clapping their gloved hands together and bobbing up and down on the balls of their feet in order to stay warm as they discuss their children and home life.
It has started to snow a little, but it melts and falls as drizzle all around the fire. Someone yells out that the hot chocolate is ready and we all take off to the shed where my aunts hand us cups full of hot chocolate and hotdogs wrapped in paper napkins. I raise the cup to my lips and burn the tip of my tongue on the sweet scalding liquid, hissing air in between clenched teeth to cool my mouth.
“Don’t drink it yet Danny, its really hot.” I say and he nods at me, placing his cup next to his feet as he picks up a bottle of ketchup and squeezes it onto his hotdog and mitten.
We hang around by the shed eating hot dogs and waiting to see if we can get seconds on the hot chocolate. The snow is still falling lightly and the ground is cold enough that it is actually sticking. Older kids, scary teenagers, have taken our place on the tires so we wander off to rummage around underneath my cousin Tonya’s patio until we find two beat up plastic sleds and set them at the top of the short slope in her backyard taking our first slide of the year in the orange glow of the fire reflected off the cloudy night sky and snowy ground. When we tumble off the slide to keep from crashing into the side of the house I feel the cold wetness of the ground under the snow seeping into the knees of my splash pants. We ride over the thin covering of snow until it doesn’t exist any more, taking turns to see who can make it to the bottom of the hill while standing on the slide. My brother wins, not falling once, while the rest of us end up covered in mud and grass stains.
Parents start showing up and plucking their children from the crowd and dragging them home. My father, carrying my sister who is bundled up like a baby marshmallow in his arms, tells us its time to go home and we protest, asking to stay for just a little while longer, but he attempts to reason that tomorrow is a school day and shoos us up to the house where mom has run baths for us to scrub away the smell of smoke that clings to our hair and the soot, grime and grey clay-like mud that stains our skin and clothes.
After we’ve been clad in fleece pyjamas and tucked into bed, my brother and I lean out of our bunk beds to stare out our window and down the road where the fire is still rolling. Tomorrow when we go outside after school the massive hill of ashes will still be smoldering.