After a supper of homemade chili and salad, topped off with apple pie a la mode, my host leads me out to the back yard. Beyond the circle of the fire, the dark shapes of cedar trees rise up against the dusky sky. Between those trees and the fire pit, a circle of cedar benches ring the stones. In the fading light, the older kids search for branches to bring to the fire.
A long-handled pair of loppers increases the options and they take advantage. From time to time, they bring a fresh cut cedar branch to join the dance of the flames. Even in the midst of hot coals and burning chunks of wood, it takes a little while for the green to dry enough to take fire. When it reaches that point, there is a sudden crackling and popping as the flames sweep up the smaller pieces.
We talk as the night moves in; stars begin to appear above us. The four-foot circle of the fire pit reminds me of the shape of an old well and that reminds me of an old Brer Rabbit story. It is one my mama read to me from the Old Walt Disney story book, before it and Uncle Remus were deemed socially unacceptable. Before the movie Song of the South was relegated to the archives and available only through foreign bootleg sources.
“Hey, kids,” I call, “have you ever seen one of those old-fashioned wells with a little roof over it and a long rope wound around a cylinder with a bucket fashioned on each end of the rope so that when one bucket goes down the other bucket comes up?”
“No,” the oldest boy answers, “but it sounds really cool.”
And so I began the story of Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox and “The Fitsy-Fotsy Figaloo Fishes.” Using the voices that my mom used when she read the story to me, I go through the tale, adding a few sound effects that Mom didn’t add. I watch the kids and their parents, the glow of the fire dancing shadows on their faces, and watch their expressions change from time to time.
It is not hard at all for me to imagine other children in a darker time, gathered around the fire of an old shack, listening to another bearded old man telling stories. Stories of how even small creatures can outwit the large ones, stories of mischief and deserved deceit. I imagine that what I feel tonight and what these children are feeling is very similar to what Joel Chandler Harris witnessed nearly two hundred years ago.
Long before iPhones and portable DVD players, families gathered with their neighbors and shared music, stories and time. There is an ancient tradition in this gathering here on a small farm within a stone’s throw of Oklahoma. Ancient yet perennially refreshing.
I think Mom would be tickled to know that her stories have reached southern Kansas; I know she would have enjoyed watching the children as I told the story. I am glad to have shared the gifts that she gave me. The family thanks me for coming out for supper and the story. They all seem to have truly enjoyed my presence and I have deeply enjoyed their hospitality and companionship.
I think my heavenly Father is pleased, too, to see His children gathered together and enjoying one another’s company. Bringing warmth and comfort on this journey toward an even better gathering.