by Susan Seyfarth
I love the way alcohol companies always remind you to celebrate reponsibly at the end of every commerical. First there are all the golden, toned, beautiful people consuming their alcoholic beverages while having impossible amounts of good, clean fun. And then there's the reminder that you are not these people, okay? You aren't this good-looking, your friends aren't this fun, & if you think you are, well, you're probably a bit past the point of drinking responsibly anyhow. But just so we're clear: Overuse of this product will make you fat, lazy, & liable to do things that may seem like good ideas but in actual point of fact are not.
What amuses me most about these commercials, however, is not the tension between buy our product in vast quantities and don't drink it all at once for god's sake. No, what I really adore about them is the fact that most of the hairiest incidents of my life--the ones where I truly feared for my safety--are never alcohol related.
They're mostly dad related.
Yeah. My dad's one of those. What we in the writing business call a character. He's a fire starter, a misuser of power tools & a lover of high-speed anything. And he's stone-cold sober. I've seen him holding a beer once in my entire life & it was because a neighbor handed him an open can at a Fourth of July barbeque. He set it down shortly thereafter, untouched & went on to light one of the most enormous fires I've ever seen in person.
I was in eighth grade, I think. My mom was in Ireland for the first time since her family emigrated when she was nine, so my dad had full responsibility for all four of us girls, ranging in age from ten to eighteen. He figured his odds of containing us were better if we were secluded at the end of a huge peninsula, so we took off for our cottage in Northern Michigan. (Not the Upper Peninsula, just the northern bit of the mitten. We Michiganders are sticklers about such things, so get it straight, 'kay?)
Anyway, the Fourth of July, usually a big hit at the lake, was rainy & cool. And nobody can sulk like a cottage full of teenagers (plus one precocious pre-teen) whose favorite sport is slathering on the baby oil & roasting themselves until they can peel huge sheets of burnt skin off their backs at night. My father had promised us a weekend full of sunshine, fireworks & bonfires when he'd dragged us away from our friends for the holiday, but conditions weren't favorable for any of the above.
The weather was out of his hands, but by god he could light us a fire. After an hour of blowing on a grudging puff of smoke, however, Dad decided to break out the gas can. Unfortunately, he failed to first ascertain that the spark he'd been nursing for the last hour was, indeed, out cold.
It was not.
One minute Dad was dumping gas onto a pile of blackened sticks, then next we all were crouched behind the over-turned rowboat watching a gas-can-turned-Molotov-cocktail roar toward the cottage while Dad & Uncle Bill used a whole lot of words we ourselves knew but hadn't previously been aware they knew. And if you're wondering? Yes, indeed, that is the sort of spectacle that'll wipe the boredom off a sulky teenaged face.
I don't know if my dad's lucky or blessed or what, but before the can could level the cottage & blow us all to kingdom come, it suddenly & inexplicably changed course. It stopped, hung a left & rolled into the lake, where it fizzled harmlessly into a charred, twisted reminder that one should never encourage a reluctant flame with an entire can of gas.
Strangely enough, this brush with death left us euphoric rather than shaken. We'd all looked death (if not by raging flame, certainly by my mother's wrath should she ever hear of this incident) in the eye, & escaped. Plus, there was a lovely roaring fire now. Mostly in the fire pit, too. There was some char on the grass, & the birch trees were all lopsided due to twenty foot flames, but as far as marshmallow roasters go, this was a nice one.
Suffice it to say, we weren't put off giant fires the way you might expect. And just to prove it, here's a photo of us last summer at the cottage with one of my dad's tamer efforts. I wish you could see it in the picture, but there's a row of birch trees behind the fire pit that have just given up growing leaves at all on the one side. No point when my dad's still got a can of gas, some matches & a pile of brush that needs torching.
How about you? Are there any characters in your family who keep you supplied with inspiration every time the blank page dares you to fill it up with something outlandish? Any family celebrations that keep the neighbors on their toes? Let's hear it, & Happy Fourth of July!