From The Ashes

Copyright 2006
by Earl H. Roberts

Sometimes we just flat gotta face facts head on and honestly
if we intend for the flames of ambition to lift us to new heights.

My Grandpa Roberts could start a fire just by rubbing two sticks together even if he was in the middle of the Atlantic in a rowboat, with a hurricane raging overhead. That talent must have been hereditary because Daddy could set my britches afire just by staring at me pretty hard.

The ability to start a fire under adverse conditions was a necessity in the life of a cowboy back when I was growing up. There was no telling where we would camp for supper and no telling what the weather would be doing when we got there either. That nonsense about carrying a prayer stick to start a fire with? That is just what it was, nonsense. Daddy never needed a prayer stick in his life. He didn't even bother to shave a fresh stick. One match, one fire; that was his motto.

He lived by that motto even if there was only one stick to burn and it was wet. Right there you can see the trend of history. The only thing Grandpa needed was two sticks to rub together and he had a fire. When history dropped down to Daddy's epoch he needed a match to make a fire roar. When history arrived on my door step it was soon discovered that I couldn't start a fire with a box full of kitchen sized matches.

No sir. Why, I have seen times when I couldn't start a fire with a box full of matches and a gallon of kerosene. Daddy could turn a raging fire over to me and it would be dead in ten minutes. His mouth would be agape when he came back. Then very patiently he would nurse the fire back to good health and everyone would be happy.

In the Boy Scouts where they show you how to get a fire going with cotton balls by scraping on a steel? the Scout master always had me turn my back when I was present, just so it would work.

In the Army where men lit the fuses to their M53 hand bombs from their burning cigarette butts?  The Army had a full time unexploded bomb squad assigned to follow me around.

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Where others can get a fire started with just a scrap of paper I can use up a whole Sunday edition of the newspaper, and have nothing but a house full of smoke at the end of my efforts.

When I go to start a fire in the wood heater I can't even get the fire starter log to start burning. My reputation has been blown so far out of proportion that it precedes me to any barbecue event, and I'm asked to leave until the food is done. By that time all the potato chips are gone and I have to take an old cold tater and wait. By this time you believe I am exaggerating. I assure you, tisn't so. No sir. I hang my head in shame when I say it, but there is no exaggeration to be had in this piece. no sir!

Just the other day I was called upon to burn a house down. It was an OLD house, probably 70 years or more old. The wood was rotten. All I had to do was burn the house down. Anybody can burn a house down. It happens all the time by accident, surely I can do it on purpose. Right?

You would sure think so, but no, no, four times no.

I laid a fine bed of twigs, branches, and a newspaper section under one corner of the house and set it afire. When the ashes grew cold the house had not been touched. I tried once more with a fresh bed, and again nothing happened. At this point I was completely indignant. In my whole life I'd never been able to start a fire, and I was determined that THIS house be the exception to that rule.

I dug up an old tire, soused it with gas, and hoisted it up onto the tar paper roof. One match and WHOOSH... That gas was on fire. I was so confident of my success that I walked off a little ways and sat down. When I glanced up, the tire was no longer on fire. The gas was gone, the flames were gone, there wasn't even any smoke.

No way was I going to take this laying down. I leaped to my feet, got another can full of gas and saturated that tire once again. One more match, and WHOOSH! Instant Fire! Even as I watched, the tire went out. One more time, lots of gas, and then a whole newspaper, and dry twigs on top of that. WHOOSH! That time the tire actually caught on fire. It raged. There was so much smoke boiling up from the tire that two people stopped to tell me the house was on fire -- and I laughed bitterly.


Sure enough the tire burned until there was nothing left, and there was not even a charred shingle on that roof. I got another tire, laid the fire good, and WHOOSH! Two more people stopped to tell me the house was on fire. My looks must have been really blazing because they both left rather hurriedly.

That tire too burned completely and there was not a singed shingle on the roof.

I was standing there muttering to myself when Daddy drove by. He saw me and wheeled in. When I explained how hard I had tried to get a fire going he shook his head as if nothing had changed since the day I was born. Maybe you know the look?

We walked into the house, and he shook his head some more. At the first closet we came to there was a pile of rubbish I had tried to set on fire. It was completely cold of course. Daddy struck a match and threw it on top of the pile. Then we walked outside and all around the house. I was delighted, justified, and vindicated when nothing happened. No smoke, no flames, no shadows. The house just jeered at us. We turned away and walked towards the barn. It was only fifty feet away. Just before we got there I heard this loud WHOOSH behind us and whirled in my tracks.

Flames had exploded from both attic windows.

The house was on fire.

The house was burning on a rampage.

In a matter of seconds the roof was on fire and flames were leaping forty and fifty feet high. An hour later every piece and particle of the house had been consumed by the fire and nothing was left but smoke and vapors. Even most of the ashes had burned.

Now you know as well as I do there is a moral to this story.

I don't know what it is, but I know it is there because I can feel the warmth of it burning in my britches every time Daddy looked at me. I wandered off alone and sank down on a dead stump. My thoughts seethed as I realized what a failure I was at keeping up family traditions. It was true and nothing I could do about it; there could never be any co-existence with me and fire.

Again and again I reflected upon the fact that Daddy could turn a raging fire over to me and it would be dead in ten minutes.

Suddenly it dawned on me.

I was in the wrong business.

Starting fires was not my niche.

No, but could anyone else on earth put a fire out just by staring at it?

No sir. I was the only one so gifted and it was time to be proud of it instead of sputtering about it in a hot, bitter rage.

For the first time that day I lifted my head, and smiled.

I looked far into the future and I knew just as sure as anything
that I was going to make a great fire chief.

the end

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