Last week we left the kids of Flamingo Street camped out in Neighbor Thomas’s backyard.
They were all engaged in a heated marshmallow war. Taking a break to laugh at my spider dance, little did they know the midnight marshmallow war was about to get hotter and bigger than any could possible imagine.
As I turned around my three brothers, and the kids in Thomas’s backyard were still laughing at me, and why not?
It was the first time they had seen one of us covered in spider webs, running and screaming, doing a spider dance all the way down to the edge of the swamp in our backyard.
Little did they all know, with the spider and web finally ripped off and thrown to the ground, the joke was about to be not just on me, but on all of us.
Face first I had run into that super sticky spider web under the giant pine tree. When I did, I had thrown down my flaming marshmallow torch and it had caught all the straw under that tree on fire.
Suddenly you have eight kids running around trying to find anything that they can use to put out the blaze. With no fire extinguishers handy, we gathered rocks, pinecones, and sticks.
First, rocks thrown on a fire do absolutely nothing.
Second, pinecones thrown on a fire does indeed do something: they explode and make the fire bigger.
Third, a bunch of kids using sticks to beat a fire also does something: it introduces a lot more air. The added air was exactly what the fire needed.
Suddenly we had the makings of a real forest fire, and that’s when we ran inside and told our parents to call the fire department.
Back then there wasn’t 911. You actually had to know the phone number for the fire department.
For some strange reason, my mom and dad knew the phone numbers of not only the fire department, but also the police and sheriff departments by heart.
One look outside and they immediately called all three of them.
Soon there was a parade of emergency vehicles screaming down Flamingo Street, and all of them parked in front of our house.
Half a dozen fire fighters jumped out, grabbed their tools, and dragged hose to Thomas’s backyard.
They fought that marshmallow blaze for over an hour, and when it was out, Dad and the police lined us kids up single file.
They went down the line asking each one of us what had happened and who had started the blaze.
When they finally got to me, I did what any 8-year-old would do in such a situation.
I lied my butt off!
Yes, I lied. I said, “Dad, it was those kids who live in the Haunted Forest.
They found their way out, went around the rope swing in the huge oak tree, waded through the swamp, came over here, and started this fire with half a bag of jumbo marshmallows.”
I held up the empty bag for effect.
But that lie really wasn’t what got me into trouble. It’s what I did next. I held up my right hand, looked Dad straight in the eye, and said, “I swear to God.”
Yep, I know it wasn’t a good thing to do, and I would soon be punished not once but twice for my transgression.
Even so, Dad still let us help the firefighters roll up their hoses and put all the equipment back on the trucks. That day I learned three things that changed my life forever.
First, I wanted to grow up and be one of those firefighters and put out marshmallow fires for a living.
Second, lying and swearing to God don’t go together.
Not only did I get punished by Dad on Saturday night, but was punished again by Reverend Jim on Sunday morning.
Third, when you’re in a group of people and someone has done something wrong, you don’t want to be the last person in line because, by the time they get down to you, all the good excuses will have already been used.
And all you’ll be left with is a really bad lie or simply the truth.
Either way, you’ll be the one holding the bag.
[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 firstname.lastname@example.org. His books are available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]