Backyard campouts and s’mores


I grew up in a typical neighborhood with a typical family for the time: a mom, a dad, three brothers, one annoying older sister, and a green parakeet that ate hushpuppies off Dad’s head during dinnertime. His name was Tweet. The parakeet’s, not Dad’s – Dad’s name was James.

We all spent seven magical years at 110 Flamingo Street in a house Dad built with his own two hands. Each summer was filled with flips off rope swings into creeks and lakes, rides on trees at the edge of the haunted forest, weekly dirt clod wars against invading hordes of little green army men, or Down the Street Bully Brad and his gang.

Of course, water balloon fights with the rich kids over on The Duke of Gloucester could break out anytime. And each summer started with Neighbor Thomas hosting a campout in his backyard.

Thomas invited all the kids from Flamingo Street. My three brothers and me, we were there every year. So was Bubba Hanks.

Bubba was huge for his age and grew up to receive a four-year scholarship to play football for a major university.

Goofy Steve provided the comic relief for the campouts. With his spindly frame, red hair, and a face full of freckles, Goof was the funniest person any of us knew.

And, of course, Thomas always invited Booger. Not gonna go into why he was named that, but he was still a good kid, nonetheless.

When the sun went down, the tents went up in Thomas’s backyard. Now back on Flamingo Street, we didn’t have tents made out of the space age materials. Nope, we used green Army surplus tents that smelled like mold on the inside, but they kept you dry.

That is, unless you touched the ceiling inside when it was raining. Then wherever you touched started a drip that lasted all night.

This was fine with me ‘cause I always slept with one of my brothers. When it rained, I’d stay awake and when my brother went to sleep, I’d touch every square inch of the ceiling above where he lay. He’d wake up in the morning wet from head to toe. I’d wake up with a smile laughing to myself.

With the tents set up, Thomas built a campfire, and we all roasted hotdogs for dinner. After dinner, it was time for dessert.

Now if you’re camping out in Georgia, the best dessert one could possibly have is, of course, s’mores. You never had the pleasure of s’mores constructed from scratch? Well, then, let me explain.

Start off with a piece of graham cracker. Add to it a piece of good bar chocolate and then a toasted marshmallow. Not just any size marshmallows will do, mind you. They have to be jumbo marshmallows. Miniature marshmallows fall off the stick. Place a jumbo marshmallow on the end of a stick and hold it above the fire — never in the fire.

Slowly, the fluffy white marshmallow will first turn tan, then a light toasty brown. When it does, place it on the chocolate, then add another piece of bar chocolate on top of it, and finally put a graham cracker on top. Then pull out the stick. It’s the best thing you’ve ever put in your mouth.

The first thing that runs out is, of course, the bar chocolate. Then it’s the graham crackers. Eventually, you’re left with half a bag of jumbo marshmallows, a campfire, and a bunch of sugared-up kids in the middle of the night.

This is not a good combination. Just about anything can happen, and in our case it did. Less than an hour later, six emergency vehicles came screaming down Flamingo Street responding to frantic calls for help.

That night, the course of one life would be changed forever. Who called for help and why? Well, that’s where next week’s story begins.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His books are available at]