Kerosene (ker′ə-sēn′) a thin oil distilled from petroleum or shale oil, used as a fuel, solvent, illuminant, etc.
The match skid across the rough surface of the box bursting into flame with a loud sizzle and a faint smell of sulfur. Butch threw the lit match. It tumbled through the air disappearing into a large rusty barrel, the blue paint long since pealed away. Two men and two teenaged boys all wearing blue stocking caps, pea coats and tan leather boots held their breath for the briefest of moments. A thunderous flame jettisoned from the barrel reaching toward the thick gray clouds.
We heard the chorus of male voices cheering in the house.
“It’s official ladies, fall has arrived,” Aunt Verla said smiling and nodding her head crowned by her new Suzanne Pleshette wig. “The first round of leaves has been sacrificed to the burn barrel.”
“Looks like Carl used the kerosene we brought,” said my mother admiring the five foot flame dancing out of the barrel from from the comfort of her chair in the family room the flame’s dance reflecting in the window.
“How come you won’t let us do that?” I asked looking out the window.
“It’s a right of passage for the boys, Fannie,” my mother said, “besides we’re smart enough to stay out of their way and call 911 when it get out of control.”
“What constitutes out of control?” I asked watching my cousin, Bud, pour kerosene into the barrel while my father watched the house and Uncle Carl held a small kitchen fire extinguisher at the ready.
As my mother, aunt and sisters moved to the window I could hear my father’s voice, “Quick their coming, hide the kerosene.”
Three years later I graduated from high school. My parents bestowed upon me my grandfather Chambliss’s beloved Coleman camp stove complete with a bottle of unopened kerosene.
“Fannie, you’re the only one of my daughters who likes to camp,” my father said patting the stove, “therefore, your mother and I thought it fitting to pass this trusted piece of family history on to your safekeeping.” Leaning forward he said, “But I do reserve visitation rights.”
“Fannie, when you use it, just make sure you’re in an open area,” my mother said looking from my father to me.
“Mom, don’t worry, I didn’t fall that far from the tree,” I said hugging the camp stove.
“That’s what I’m worried about.”
That fall a big ice storm hit and knocked the power out on campus. The Coleman stove gained celebrity status in our dorm because everyone enjoyed hot meals. Fellow students pooled change so we could purchase more kerosene and keep the party going.
I have not cooked another pan of Jiffy Pop since.
Six years later I met Richard.
His father, Paul, said, “Richard, if you want to know if this relationship will last, go camping. And if you really want to test it, make sure you have a long car ride to get there. You’ll know within six hours.”
The night before we left, thieves vandalized Richard’s car. Smashing out windows, spreading toothpaste over the seats and dashboard, taking the radio, popping the locks out of the doors and keying his paint, we took his car to the body shop.
We packed Allegro, The Mighty Geo Prizm, floor to ceiling. Richard packed the gallon container of kerosene on the floor cushioned between the sleeping bags.
Leaving Seattle, we arrived in Milwaukie, Oregon four hours later without incident to meet Richard’s parents.
“Fannie, it’s so nice to finally meet you.” Richard’s father, Paul, said. Looking at Richard he said, “She’s a keeper, good dental work, you won’t go broke on her teeth.”
Richard turned red up to the roots of his brown hair.
Sabina, Richard’s mother, looking from Richard to me said, “Fannie, ignore him. It’s great to meet you.”
“It’s nice meeting both of you,” I said laughing.
“Come into the house, lunch is waiting for you,” Sabina said ushering us into the house.
After lunch, Sabina gave us a goody box to take to the beach with us.
“Richard, I threw some tea in there you might like to try,” Sabina said handing him the box, “although, I have no idea where you’re going to fit it in that car.”
“Trust me, I’ll get it in,” Richard said hugging his mom.
We arrived for our first stay at Beverly Beach two hours later.
After setting up camp, hunger forced me to start dinner. I pulled out the Coleman and filled the reservoir full of kerosene. I pumped the primer and opened the valve for the burner. The match burst into flame and so did the burner.
“So how do you feel about pork chops for dinner?” I asked holding up the pork.
“Sounds good to me.”
I put the pork and a little olive oil in the pan and placed it on the Coleman waiting to hear the satisfying sizzle. Nothing happened.
Peering under the pan, no flame. I pumped the primer and lit it again. The pan heated for a moment then nothing.
“I don’t know what is wrong with this, it worked fine last weekend,” I said frustrated.
“Light it again and when the flame starts to dim pump the primer,” Richard said. “That’ll tell us if we have a leak.”
I relit the stove. As the flame dimmed I pumped the primer and the flame became brighter.
“You keep working on the camp stove, I’ll drive to Walmart and see if I can get a new one. It’s only fifteen minutes from here,” Richard said taking the keys from me.
The primer required pumping every minute and a half. The contractions got closer. After forty minutes I pumped every twenty seconds. Forty-five minutes later one side of the meat turned brown and my arm ached. When is Richard getting back?
Richard drove into our site as I turned the pork chops over.
Removing the top of his head from the sun roof, pulling his knees against his chest to get them around the steering wheel and unfolding his tall frame while climbing out of the car, he looked like a circus clown.
When he reached full height he said, “allow me.”
He pulled a small burner out of the grocery bag and screwed it onto a propane bottle. He lit the burner, took the pan from me and cooked the meat through in 30 seconds.
Although grateful for the food, I called him a few choice endearments to express my sentiments on the subject.
After dinner I wrapped up the Coleman and packed him in the car. How was I going to tell my father he died?
The sun set as we walked along the beach. We returned to camp. Richard poured kerosene into the lantern, tied on a new mantel and primed it. Opening the valve we could hear the gas releasing as he put the match to the mantel. Orange and blue flame climbed the cotton netting. The illumination spread over the table. Richard placed the glass cowl on the lantern and screwed on the cover.
The light dimmed. Richard primed the lantern. The light grew bright illuminating his face and reflecting in his deep blue eyes. Five minutes later the lamp dimmed. Looking around at our neighbors campsites, the glow of propane lanterns called to us.
“Looks like the same tune, but a different verse,” I said rubbing my arm.
“We’ll take turns priming the lantern this evening and drive in to town tomorrow to get a propane lantern,” Richard said pumping the primer again.
“That’s easy for you to say,” I said rubbing my sore arm. “Shall we see what your mom gave us?”
Richard retrieved the box from the car. Tucked inside the box, we found a dozen peanut butter cookies and a dozen oatmeal raisin cookies. Sabina put a note on the tea “To cleanse the system, Love, Mom.”
“Want some tea?” I asked.
I pulled the coffee pot out, filled it full of water and put it on the propane burner. The water boiled in one minute. Putting tea bags in each of our mugs I poured the boiling water. Removing my tea bag after about a minute, I nodded to Richard. He shook his head and left the tea bag in his mug as we sipped the tea. He enjoyed the flavor so much he consumed two more cups.
“Ready for bed?” I asked picking up the water bucket.
“Sure, I’ll stir the coals,” he said grabbing the large stick we rescued from the beach.
The campfire out, we climbed into our sleeping bags around 10:00 p.m. At 11:00 Richard took his first trip to the out house. At midnight his second, and so on every 45 minutes from then on.
By about three a.m. he woke me up looking for the flashlight again.
He said, “Screw the flashlight, I’m out of here.”
He did not even stop for his shoes.
Richard crawled back into the tent five minutes later.
“Are you all right?” I asked.
“Fannie, I didn’t even get to sit down, it was like a bazooka blast.”
“What was in that tea?” I asked, “When I read the note, I thought it meant antioxidants. I’ll check the box tomorrow when we get up.”
The next morning I read the tea box. It mentioned Senna as the prime ingredient and not steeping longer than two minutes until we’d been using it for several weeks and then build up to steeping longer, but not longer than five.
“Richard, I’ll have to send your mother a thank you note for the cookies,” I said laughing, “and for the Buttblaster tea.”
“Fannie, we’re not driving home with a half gallon of kerosene in the car, it’s too dangerous,” Richard said as we broke down camp.
“Richard, I transport partial containers of kerosene all the time,” I said looking at him.
“We are in a small car I can barely fit into which will be packed to the ceiling, I’m not going back to Seattle in that death trap.”
“What are you proposing?” I asked pulling my shoulder length brown hair into a pony tail through my baseball cap.
“The only safe and responsible thing to do would be to burn it.”
“Burn it,” I said smiling nodding my head.
“It’s fuel oil, it’ll burn quickly,” Richard said leaning forward and smiling, “I’ll start a fire and just keep pouring it on until it’s all gone. We don’t have to leave here until 1 p.m. so we have plenty of time. Then we can recycle the container.”
“I see you’ve thought this through,” I said laughing.
“Completely,” Richard said smiling, “I’ll start the fire, you fill the water bucket.”
Richard placed the last of the fire wood in the pit, poured kerosene over it, lit the match and tossed it into the pit. Flames ran over the logs like the bulls of Pamplona reaching fourteen feet skyward. Every ten minutes, Richard added more kerosene to the fire.
Within an hour the logs disappeared but the flames continued. Richard poured the last of the kerosene onto the fire.
Three minutes later one of the park rangers drove passed our camp and stared at our fire. I held the water bucket at the ready. He smiled, shook his head and continued on his rounds.
We looked at each other and smiled.
“That was close,” Richard said. “I thought for sure we were gonna get busted like the last time I did that.”
“Richard,” I said looking up at him my green eyes dancing, “I know this for sure my family is going to love you.”