One of my favorite things to do in my formative years in Muncie was to burn the trash. “What?” You may ask. “You didn’t wrap everything up in fancy Glad Bags and put them in fancy plastic garbage bins so that the high tech dump trucks can just pick them up and dump them?”
My dad had an elaborate garbage and trash system. There were three containers in our kitchen:
1. A fully-opened paper ½ gallon milk carton for slimy, greasy, wet garbage. This sat on the counter to the left of the kitchen sink, and you just scraped stuff into it as you cleaned off your plate. We didn’t have a garbage disposal, so anything that today would go into that contraption would in those days go into the carton. The thing caught everything from egg shells to bacon grease. When the carton was full, the flaps would be folded back to a closed position and it was placed in the second container.
2. A paper grocery sack that sat on the floor of the kitchen under the window in front of the refrigerator was the second level of the system. This container caught all of the non-slimy, non-greasy trash that could not be burned, things like metal cans or glass containers that couldn’t be redeemed for money. When the sack was near full, it got rolled closed and carried out to the steel garbage cans in the garage. They were eventually put out on trash day beside the alley and a big truck with a couple of guys hanging off the rear would come by and empty them out. Glad style bags existed back then, but my dad was too frugal to let mom buy them. She would come home with multiple paper sacks from Ross Grocery or Wise Supermarket anyway, so she would just save them for this secondary duty.
3. We had a kitchen trash basket that was positioned just beside the grocery sack. Into this bin was placed anything that could burn, but primarily paper.
In my neighborhood, most folks had a place where they burned trashed. It was common practice. City ordinances forbid such things today, but back then….well,….it’s just what was done. Cecil French had the best one in the neighborhood. It was built up with concrete blocks, had a system for air intake, and the ash could be shoveled out when need be. My dad, on the other hand, had the simplest. It was an old oil drum with the top removed and some holes cut in the sides.
Our trash-burner drum was located on a tiny little strip of ground between our driveway and the alley that ran behind our house. I would drag the kitchen container out there about once a week with a few matches or maybe someone’s cigarette lighter and burn the trash. No big deal and not all that dangerous….unless….
Unless I decided to give the fire a little boost with the gasoline that my dad kept for the mower just inside the garage. I’ve got to tell you, sometimes I think it is a wonder I survived my childhood.
I don’t think you could call me a pyromaniac. I’ve never burned down a building or anything more substantial than trash or some brush. My cousin Greg used to build these elaborate “houses” out of boxes and cardboard just so he could burn them. I never got into that. But, fire did sort of intrigue me. Call it science. Call it curiosity. Call it stupidity.
I enjoyed small experiments.
I liked to augment the trash fire with different materials….rubber (makes noxious black smoke) or plastic (makes noxious, but colorful smoke). I liked to see if I could get the fire going again when it was almost out. Stuff like that.
The experiment that scared me the most though, didn’t involve the trash barrel. Nope. In this case, it was a simple candle.
My mom had some little candles in glass bowls. The openings at the top curled in so that the bowl was wider than the opening. The wick was about halfway down the bowl. You know what I’m talking about, right? Anyway, I had one of those in my bedroom, and I used to “mess” with it. Light it. Blow it out. Light it. Suffocate it. Relight it. See if I could suffocate it until it was almost out, but then give it the air back again just in time to revive it. The trouble wasn’t this game. The trouble was the tool I was using to suffocate the candle.
I was using my bedroom curtains.
You are saying something else right now. You are saying: “Was he nuts?”
You are right to ask that question. I ask myself that every time I think about this story. I think I'll plead temporary insanity.
Anyway, what I would do was light the candle, and then lay the curtain over the top of the candle bowl and watch the flame die down inside until it was just about gone, and then pull the curtain back to see the flame jump back to life. I did this several times with no incidents….until one time I noticed that as the curtain lay over the bowl, its white color was turning black and a little tiny bit of smoke was rising from the material.
“Crap!” I said in a hushed scream! And, I pulled the curtain free!
I was lucky. It didn’t actually catch fire. But, I think I was VERY close to catching my folks’ house on fire. Another couple of seconds and this story would have had a very different ending. That close call put an end to my fire games and experiments. As I’ve said before in this series, it was one more thing that I never did again.
Curiosity almost burned down my parents' house. I don't play with fire anymore, but if there is anything that causes me more grief in my life than anything else, it is my curiosity. I have an intense amount of it, and it is a blessing in some ways, and a definite curse in others.