Chapter 16: Around the Fire Pit

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–I’ll help you learn to walk.–
(Erin-10 to Hyrum)

One Monday evening after dinner, the whole family walked on Rabbit Lane.  The sun was setting large and red, and the chilly Spring air settled upon us as we returned home.  We gathered around our new fire pit to tell stories, sing songs, and roast apples and marshmallows, sitting on camp chairs and logs.  I felt especially proud of the pit.  It was more than just a shallow hole in the ground.  I had lined it with large smooth sandstone boulders harvested from the commercial lot of a friend who had excavated for the foundation of his new building.  He was happy to have me take as many rocks from the dirt piles (more rock than dirt) as I wanted.  Each stone I took was one less stone he had to pay to haul off.

The day of the rock haul, I laid protecting plywood in the bed of the truck and drove the children to the lot.  The only limitation to the size of the rocks we harvested was our strength to pick them up.  I gathered the largest ones, while the children tossed smaller ones into the truck bed.  Too late, I instructed the excited children not to throw their rocks into the truck, but to gently drop or set them in.  The truck body still shows the several dents made in those few minutes.  At least no windows were broken.  Back at home, we rolled the rocks out of the truck and over to the spot chosen for the fire pit.  We laid the largest rocks in a ring, then filled in and around with the smaller rocks.

Home from our walk, we crumpled newspaper and piled kindling.

“Can I light the fire?!” the children each clamored, as usual, for the privilege of lighting the fire.

I resolved the conflict by giving each child a match and letting each light a different section of the tinder pile.  Soon the fire was roaring, the sudden heat taking away the evening chill.  We sang a few silly campfire songs, like Do Your Ears Hang Low, and some family favorites like White Wings and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot, songs my father sang with the family when I was a boy.  They were songs his father had sung with him when he was a boy.  The children frantically blew on their marshmallow torches and carefully tasted their roasted apples.  Slowly, as we interacted, the burning sticks and logs made a heaped bed of shimmering orange embers.  The warmth reached out and enveloped us all, together.

After a while, everyone grew quiet, staring into the fire.  Angie and I began to tell them stories of others who had walked little dirt roads like Rabbit Lane, in other times and under other circumstances.  I told them of their fifth-great-grandmother, Susanna Ann, whose nursemaid smuggled her as a baby out of France during the French Revolution, walking obscure dirt roads, filled with the fear of being discovered and imprisoned and executed.  No one knows the real names of either the smuggling nursemaid or the contraband child.  But the grownup baby’s daughter, Jean Rio, herself grown up, had joined herself to the new Mormon religion in England.  Leaving the cobbled streets of London, she sailed with her young family across the Atlantic Ocean and up the Mississippi River.  Little Josiah, only four, sickened and died aboard ship.  The vast Atlantic was his grave.  From Illinois, Jean Rio and her children walked and rode in ox-drawn wagons over 1,000 miles of dirt trails to arrive expectantly in Salt Lake City, the center of the Mormon faith.  Jean Rio, a woman of some means, brought with her Utah’s first piano.  Angie told the children of how one of her ancestors, Sarah, a pioneer midwife, had frequently left home in the middle of the night to walk the dirt roads of the Salt Lake valley to help her sister-women deliver their babies.  She delivered over 300 babies, and never lost a single baby, or a mother either.  We told them how many others walked hot and dusty roads, stubbing their toes and turning their ankles, wiping the dust and sweat from their faces, jumping away from coiled, rattling snakes, but always looking forward and upward toward their destinations, toward places of hope and promise.

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