Flight Of The Flaming Marshmallow by J Dan Francis
It has been a patriotic week here in North Hill. We just ended our Fourth of July festivities and I think I can speak for everyone here when I say patriotism is alive and well and strong in our little town. The world may be falling apart around us, but this past week we circled the wagons, gave the battle cry and sang the Star Spangled Banner till we were hoarse. North Hillians are true red, white, and blue Americans I am happy to report. It was, and is the one day of the year when every person big and small, rich and poor, sinner and saint, Republican and well, Republican, because there are no more Democrats; they went out for ice-cream when Jimmy Carter was president and found Vermont. So the people of this small town come together once a year to reflect on the freedoms bestowed upon this great land and the price in blood that was paid, and the meaning that it holds deep down into the farthest reaches of our being. It was a wonderful time of flag waving and backyard cookouts, watermelon and blackberry pie, pick-up softball games and toasting marshmallows on the bonfire. And, it was a time for fireworks, lots of fireworks. There were roman candles and firecrackers, smoke bombs and bottle rockets, and my favorite, those swirly twirly screaming spinners that make everybody run for cover, and M-80's so loud they reverberated like a cannon blast across the lake making the town sound like a battlefield. The weather couldn't be better. It was sunny and hot and the nights were warm too. Everyone sat out on their front porches with bunting draped over the railings and Old Glory was hung high. On that appointed night we proclaimed our independence with a raucous, loud, and colorful fireworks show. The grand finale was one for the books; it surely was.
After breakfast when the kids all went out to play, JD Gifford snuck up behind his beloved Lori as she washed the dishes, and he wrapped his arms around her waist and gave her a squeeze.
"Hey Precious, how about we head up to Old Forge tomorrow for a picnic and watch the fireworks show? We'll come back late in the evening, or if you want, we can stay at the campground and come back on the fifth just in time for North Hill's fireworks...Kind of a double whammy. Whaddya say? "
Lori was quiet and was trying to figure a way to lay it on JD so as not to dishearten him. She wanted to tell him that she had already made up her mind for the Fourth. She was thinking that maybe this time she had overstepped her marital vows to love, honor, obey, and to do the dishes and laundry, and to raise three sugar addicted, over active children, and to feed the dog and change out the cat litter. Well, that didn't matter any longer because for the first time in her life Lori Gifford was going to step outside of the box that marital bliss had painted her into and proudly proclaim her own independence, even if it was for just one day. Truth be told, she had already started the ball rolling and couldn't bring it back. Just this once she would like to have a say as to what the Gifford family would do on the Fourth of July, or any holiday for that matter. So she gathered up every ounce of courage she could muster in her five foot two and one half inch, one hundred and ten pound body, turned to face her husband while his lanky long arms were still around her waist and reached up and put her sudsy soapy hands around his neck. She sighed and smiled wide.
"Sweetie, I was kind of thinking maybe we could spend the Fourth right here at home...you know, maybe have a little get together of our own with some family and friends...not many, just a few... for a cookout and what not."
JD stood up straight arching his back away from her with his head tilted up, his eyes straining to look down on her while she continued talking.
"You know, just an old fashioned cookout on the grill...with hotdogs, and hamburgers, and corn on the cob...and homemade coleslaw...and potato salad...and watermelon."
I think she had him at watermelon because JD was a sucker for watermelon. On hot summer days, eating watermelon was classified as an Olympic sport in this town. He had spitting seeds down to an art-form, right there with all the other porch sitters and park bench warmers. There certainly wasn't much convincing needed here. All Lori had to do was look at him longingly and close the deal. So, she continued talking some more.
"And you can set off those fireworks and sparklers you have hidden in the garage you thought I didn't know about...And we could make a bonfire and..."
JD rolled his eyes upward, and then shut them tight. He blinked several times. That's kind of how he handled stress. He wasn't a yeller; no, not a yeller. He was more of a thinking man, a brooder you might say. He had to mull things over in his mind for a bit when it came to these moments. Especially when the wife would unload on him after he already had his heart set on something, like going to Old Forge. She just kept right on talking waiting for the right moment to zing him with the kill shot.
"And, we'll toast marshmallows on the bonfire....It will be fun JD...Please...Just this once," she pleaded, standing on her toes kissing his chin.
JD couldn't resist those ticklish kisses on his chin. It was like a dog getting his belly rubbed or his ears scratched. He melted right there on the spot. He surrendered to the enemy; a woman's Persuasion. Lori had successfully turned him into putty. He let out a long sigh then dropped his head down and let every muscle in his body relax. He knew when he was licked. And, he knew he wasn't going to win this one.
"Why not," he said. He was kind of glad not to have to go to all that trouble of packing up the family just for one night away. Besides, maybe a little downtime at home would be fun for a change.
"Go ahead Precious, plan that party, it sounds like fun...Besides, Skip Sinclair had asked me to help him with the July Fourth parade on Saturday and I think I might do it"
And with that said, JD and Lori began to quickly plan their First Annual Gifford Fourth of July picnic. It was an all-day affair, putting that little do together for a handful of family and friends. JD was beginning to think it would have been better had they just gone to Old Forge. But then again Lori never asked for much and JD figured he owed it to her to let her have it her way, just this once.
On the morning of the Fourth, JD figured he might head over to Skips to give him a hand getting things ready for the big day. There's a lot he didn't realize that goes into marching in a parade he had found out; like timing and keeping pace with the flow of the other marchers, and making sure to stay a certain distance from the truck. And then there you must know how to throw out the candy properly. Like, you got to toss it underhand so it flies high spreading over everyone as it falls gently at their feet. Throw too hard and you risk pelting someone. That wouldn't be good, especially if that someone got hit in the eye; they might want to return the favor in the form of a knuckle sandwich. Throw too weak and the candy lands in the middle of the road and the kids run out and gum up the works, and the parade has to come to a full stop momentarily. And you can bet all the marchers will be giving the incompetent candy thrower the stink eye.
As soon as JD walked into Skip's garage, Skip threw him a rag and began a rapid fire lecture on parade etiquette and how to shine his vintage fifty-three Ford, like he was some Marine Drill Instructor addressing new recruits just getting off the bus. It started off something like, your momma doesn't work here and then JD kinda stiffened up like Gomer Pyle with a silly looking grin on his face and fear in his heart, wondering what he got himself into. He had never seen Skip act this way, but the man sure did take his parade marching duties seriously Quickly though, the lecture began to sound like "blah blah blah" as JD faded off into his happy place...mentally speaking, that is. After Skip's long winded pontification and the fifty or so times he paced back and forth along the side of that vintage fifty-three Ford, they had commenced to carefully polishing the truck to a spit shine luster. After their work was completed, Skip went into his office and came out with an old canvass shoulder bag he used when he was a paperboy back in the day. It was pretty worn and had a gaping hole in one bottom corner of it.
"You might wanna patch that up with a needle and thread or something, to keep the candy from falling out."
JD was as excited as a sixteen year-old boy who just got his driver's license, and he playfully saluted Skip who also handed him a brand new baseball cap with "Sinclair Fuel Oil Service" stitched on the front. JD could not have been more proud. He hadn't felt this way since he was chosen to play the lead role in the Little Drummer Boy Christmas Pageant in the second grade.
"We meet up Saturday morning at eight o'clock sharp on the Village Green," Skip reminded him..
"I'll be there."
JD decided it would only be proper to invite Skip and his wife to the picnic, but thought Skip's reply a bit odd.
"We already got the invite, so yes we'll be there," Skip said.
JD stood there for a moment scratching his head wondering why Lori never told him that she had invited the Sinclairs. Not that it mattered one way or the other. It's just that JD and Skip were never best buddies. They were more like acquaintances, and he couldn't recollect ever having socialized with Skip outside of lodge meetings, town events, two barn raisings, the occasional funeral, and the time when all the men of the village came together to help round up heifers after they broke down a fence at the McKiddy's Farm and were spotted roaming about on the Old Route 30 causing the first ever traffic jam in North Hill history. He shrugged it off though, and was happy the invitation was graciously accepted. Truth is, Lori never invited them. Word of the picnic took on legs of its own and was already known all over town long before Lori could ask JD
"Well anyhow, I need to get going so I can help Lori with the picnic," JD said.
But helping with the picnic was the last thing on JD's mind, and with that he went on his way toward home, stopping at the Brass Lantern Tavern for a cold one. He noticed while there, that the crowd was quite thin. Matter of fact, it was just himself, two men he didn't know and old John the bartender. So, JD drank down his beer, quickly fished around in his pocket, slapped some crumpled bills on the bar and left.
He walked along Main Street with the old canvas newspaper sack slung over his shoulder. He figured it was still early and he might as well head over to the Five and Dime and buy some needle and thread to repair the hole in the bottom, then head home for the picnic before Lori sent out a search party. He stopped off at the Village Green to set a spell and while there, repaired the canvas bag as good as new. Well almost as good as new, bout as good as any man can sew, in JD's summation. It would have to do.
As he continued on the final leg of his trek toward home he could see a bit of a commotion going on up near his house. There were a lot of cars parked along the road and people casually milling about. He walked past some people in his front yard, drinking his beer and talking. He walked straight into the back yard only to see Lori scurrying about looking all frazzled. She looked as if she was about to have a nervous breakdown. JD was dumbstruck while looking back and forth at all the people...standing in his back yard. There was Claude Wemple, the Mayor of North Hill, Supervisor Hank Conkling, and North Hill's lone lawman, Constable Dan Handsome. Skip Sinclair was there too, He raised his can of beer to JD and gave him thumbs-up and a wink, whatever that meant. And there was just about everyone who sat on the town council; too many to name. Of course, just about everyone who lived in North Hill had held elected office at one time or another it seemed.. Almost everyone from town showed up. Even people he'd never met before were there. I suspect they came from the State Campground that stretched along the main highway on the Sacandaga River. JD sort of half expected everyone to shout "surprise!" or something. Lori came running up as she broke down in tears. JD didn't even offer her his handkerchief or an "everything's gonna be all right Precious." Not even a hug or a pat on the head. He continued to stand there with his mouth all agape, staring in a catatonic state.
"Oh my JD, look what I have done," she bellowed through tears. "I only invited a few people...I really did...like three or four...I don't know, but somehow word got out that we were having a big party. We don't have any where near enough food for all these people."
"Sweet Mary and Joseph," was all he could mutter at the moment.
All of the food was nearly gone and everyone had nearly consumed all of the beer. What JD and Lori needed right at that moment was a miracle; a five loaves of bread and two fishes biblical kind of miracle. And it needed to happen fast before someone started a riot. In his present state of utter shock and confusion, JD had actually devised an idea. He took Lori firmly by the shoulders, looked into her frightened teary eyes, and said.
"You keep everyone entertained, Precious. I'll be back in a jiff."
And JD took off running toward Main Street, jumping over bushes and fire hydrants, and even over a baby in a stroller, for there was no time to waste. He ran straight up Main Street till he got to Halloran's Market and barreled through the door like a mad bull on a mission. He was so out of breath that he couldn't speak. Finally he was able to tell Bill Holloran all about the picnic going on over at his house that turned into something the likes and size of a high school dance. Bill said he knew all about it.
"I was thinking of heading over there myself, right after I close up," he said.
"Why not," JD replied. "It's only one more burger on the grill. Practically the whole town is there; By-God, one more isn't going to ruin my day."
He grabbed a shopping cart and began filling it with beer, hamburger and hot dog buns, and all the potato salad Halloran's had. Bill gathered up all the hamburger and hot dogs he had left and wrapped it all up. JD grabbed another cart and tossed in as many watermelon that would fit, and five bags of marshmallows, and even more beer that would fit that shelf below the cart. When Bill had finished tallying up all the goods, JD looked as if he were going to drop dead from a heart attack right there on the spot. He had no choice but to pull out his last bit of ammo for the cause; his Credit Card- something he rarely, if ever used. His eyes teared up as he thought of his credit score sinking into the abyss like the Dow Jones in '08. Bill swiped it, and without waiting around for the receipt, JD started pushing one shopping cart while pulling the other right through the door awkwardly going as fast as he could down the sidewalk--clack-clack, clack-clack, clack-clack, all the way home.
Well as picnics go, this one went pretty well, all things considered. Everyone was full and satisfied. One man no one had ever seen before was passed out, sprawled on JD's front lawn, right next to the lawn jockey; they left him there till morning. JD made a bonfire and put some lawn chairs around it, and everyone who stayed sat around it, with beer in hand staring at the flames with full bellies. Lori was quite relieved and happy that the picnic had turned out so well. And those tears of earlier on had all disappeared and were replaced with her usual radiant smile. She had earned her rest, and took a chair next to her husband. He handed her a long stick with a sharpened end that he speared two marshmallows on for her. She took it and dangled the sweet white pillows of goo near a flame, turning the stick gently. The treat turned a nice light brown color then started to bloat and bubble. She must not have been paying close attention, because all of a sudden the marshmallows sizzled then turned into an angry flaming molten monster.
Lori became startled and pulled the stick of burning marshmallow away from the fire, shaking it furiously. JD stood up and yelled, "Just blow on it Precious! Blow out the flame!" But she paid no attention to his instructions and panicked even more, waving the stick back and forth faster as people began moving and diving out of harm's way. Just at that moment, the two flaming molten blobs dislodged from the stick like fire balls launched from a medieval catapult, flying fast right at JD. There was no time to run for cover. One went high, hitting him smack dab on the forehead; the other low, plowing into his shin. Instinctively, JD slapped one hand onto his forehead and the other onto his shin and began hopping and "ooh oohing" like a crazy man, falling over a lawn chair flat on his back, with his hands still stuck to his forehead and shin.
"Man down!" yelled Mayor Wemple.
Everyone looked frozen in their surprised silence. For a brief moment, all you could hear was the crackling of the fire. Lori stood with her hand over her mouth at the sight of her husband, rocking back and forth on the ground with his hands firmly pasted on two parts of his anatomy. She almost started to laugh, but did not dare. He looked like he just lost miserably in a game of Twister. Then JD began to moan as the burning pain became intense. Mayor Wemple, Supervisor Conkling, and Constable Dan Handsome came to his aid.
"Don't move him," the Mayor ordered.Of course, he would know. Mayor Wemple was also North Hill's Fire Chief and head paramedic.
"Well, what do we do then," asked Conkling.
"Are you all right JD?" Dan asked.
"DO I LOOK ALRIGHT TO YOU?" JD shouted. "My hands are stuck to my shin and forehead, and it hurts like hell."
Lori got her wits about her, as she mustered up all her compassion and rushed down to JD's side wanting to comfort him, but fearful of touching him. He began to pull his hand from his shin, but the gooey charred confection began to harden, so JD just gritted his teeth, winced, and with every ounce of courage, yanked his hand away. Quickly, and without thinking too much about it, he yanked his other hand from his forehead and let out such a blood curdling scream, that everyone gasped in utter empathy. A voice from behind said, "Oh that's gotta hurt." Some turned away in fits of laughter, others just stared. The three stalwarts of the community helped JD to his feet. Mayor Wemple noticed right off that the skin on his forehead and shins had come clean off.
"Well that doesn't look good. We need to get you to the Doc's," Mayor Wemple said.
The three men gently escorted JD through the stunned crowd who were slowly parting like the Red Sea; some began to clap for the brave soul. They put him in the Mayors 'red Fire Chiefs' car and they drove off together to the Doc's house with lights flashing and sirens blaring. JD was embarrassed by all the attention being paid him and he protested all the way across town.
Saturday, the day of the parade, JD was feeling much better, but he looked far worse than he felt, that was for sure. He sported a bandage all the way around his head, covering his forehead completely, with tufts of thick gauze protruding out the top and his hair sticking out all over. His shin was also wrapped, except he wore long pants for the march, so it didn't show like it did up top. Only problem was that he walked with a pronounced limp, and when he showed up at the Village green to get in place for the parade limping and his head all wrapped up like that, Skip Sinclair was none too pleased. He had seen the flying flaming marshmallow calamity, but hadn't thought much of it and had a good laugh with the rest of the town chinwaggers. But seeing JD up-close and in the light, well, that was another thing. Skip had an image to keep and protect. He couldn't in all good conscience allow a man in JD's condition to represent The Skip Sinclair Fuel Oil Company, certainly not in this condition. It was late in the game, but Skip in all his over-blown piety had no choice but to ask JD to give back the canvas sack and inform him that he would not be able to march in the parade.
Heartsick upon being told the bad news, JD reluctantly and slowly handed the sack over to Skip, who then reached up and snatched the cap from JD's bandaged head; the final insult. JD stood there at attention like the good brave Marine he once was, and without word turned on his heels and limped across the street to the sidewalk and taking his place with the rest of the civilians lining the parade route. He was sitting on the curb when Lori found him looking all crestfallen. She sat down on the curb next to him, offering only unspoken sympathy while rubbing his back. They watched as Skip placed the cap on his wife's head and patted her on her behind. She smiled gleefully, then jumped into the fifty-three Ford and fired it up. Skip donned the canvas sack that JD had repaired and took JD's place behind the old Ford.
A man by the name of Fred Bubb, a Revolutionary War reenactor, a bonafide member of the Sons of the Revolution Fife and Drum Corps from Ticondaroga was scurrying about the crowd holding a blue Revolutionary coat (worn by soldiers of that era) trying to size it up to every man he walked by to see if it would be a fit, when he happened to spot JD sitting on the curb. He had to act fast because the parade was about to get under way. JD was perfect for what he was looking for, or should I say, who. When Fred approached JD he just blurted out the obvious question any stranger would ask, of course.
"Man, what happened to you?"
JD and Lori looked up at him. She seemed a bit put off by his inquiry, only because they did not know him. JD on the other hand seemed less fazed by the stranger's intrusiveness.
"Long story short," JD began to sullenly tell him. "Couple of flaming flying marshmallows got away from Precious here, and well, the rest is history."
"Well it's perfect...I..I mean, I hope you're alright...You see, I'll come right to the point...long story short, I'm with the Fife and Drum Corp, The Sons of the Revolution. Maybe you heard of us." JD looked up at him bemused. "Anyway, one of our guys is a no-show."
"So, what's that got to do with us?"
"Not her, just you," Fred said, pointing at JD. "The gentleman who didn't show up, plays the part of a wounded American Revolutionary Soldier and standard-bearer, and with that bandage on your head and all... well, I was just wondering if you wouldn't mind putting on this coat and carrying the Stars and Stripes in the parade for us?"
JD smiled wide and perked right up. He couldn't believe his ears. He stood up so fast, the bandage on his shin shifted and he let out a yell.
"You'll need to limp too, like you're wounded," Fred told him.
"Oh don't you worry about that mister, I got the limp down pat," JD said.
Lori stood up smiling at JD and gave him a big kiss on the lips. Just then, Skip happened to be looking over at them; JD slapped her on the rear and then looked up and winked at Skip. Off he went, limping through the crowd, throwing on the coat.
JD took the flag, and it just so happened that the Fife and Drum Corp filed right in behind Skip Sinclair and his fifty-three Ford, and a few minutes later, JD was marching down Main Street like he was made for it, fulfilling his boyhood dream. As he marched directly behind Skip, he noticed the twine he used to repair the canvas sack hanging loosely as Skip carried it loaded down with candy. Ever so delicately JD reached behind Skip under the canvas sack, and pulled on the loose twine. It came out easily, opening that old tear wide enough for the candy to flow out all over the ground. JD looked over at Lori with a mischievous grin and gave her a big thumbs up. The parade didn't go so well for Skip. He had to keep stopping to pick the candy up off the road that had fallen out. Kids kept running in, gumming up the works, and all the marchers gave poor Skip the stink-eye.
J Dan Francis
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