Tender Teacher

Sharing stories about my personal and professional life as a teacher.

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Burning Trash

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Corrugated cardboard

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One of my favorite chores when I was nine years old was burning trash.   Each day after the supper dishes were washed and dried I got to take the trash out back to the “burn spot” in the garden.  This spot was moved from time to time, because ashes were good for the garden.

First, I put the cans, glass, and other items that wouldn’t burn into the garbage can, then I meandered to the “burn spot”.   I felt proud that my parents trusted me to do this “grown-up” job, and I puffed up even bigger when a passer-by would say, “Does your parents allow you to burn trash?”

Now, of course,there were rules:  Come back in and tell us if it is windy before you set the fire.  Stand up-wind from a breeze.  Make sure no children are close by.  When you strike the match make sure it is far away from your dress or coat.  Don’t come back in until the fire is out.

I was, no doubt, good at following rules, and could be trusted, or my parents wouldn’t have given me this important chore at such a young age.  However, one afternoon, I almost lost my job, because of poor judgment.  A new, bubbly friend, Cathy, had moved in across the street.  She was in my fourth grade class.  Everyone loved her, because she was so much fun.  She came over when I was burning trash.  I didn’t think of her as a child, because after all, she was the same age as me.

When Cathy arrived I was feeding corrugated cardboard to the fire a little at a time, so the fire didn’t become too big.  She took a piece of torn cardboard and put just the end of it into the fire, and then showed me how you could suck the smoke through the rib openings.  She attempted to show me how to blow smoke rings.  This looked like so much fun, and since both my parents smoked I wasn’t afraid to have smoke in my mouth.  So, I tried it too, but I didn’t have much luck making any smoke rings either.  Soon, the cardboard was all burned up and she had to go home.  I stayed with the fire until it was completely out.

I carried the trash basket through the back door.  Entering the kitchen I asked.  “How do you blow smoke rings?”  There was an uncanny stillness in the air for a bit before my dad said, “Why do you want to know?”  I said, “I had trouble making the smoke turn into rings like you do.”  You could feel the eerie tension.  “You had cigarettes?”  “Oh, No,” and I went on, “Cathy showed me how you can suck smoke through the cardboard holes, but we couldn’t make the rings.”

Well, the “uncanny stillness” and “eerie tension”, changed quickly to an intense feeling of fear, and hot embarrassment  with one, Earth shattering word from my dad, “WHAT!”  Tears began to sting my eyes, and my heart was pounding.

Mom joined in with, “You could have burned your throat, or worse, burned your lungs!”  Through the blur of sixty years I also remember other terse comments:  I trusted you!  You could have died!  I just can’t believe you did that!  You know no children are allowed near when you burn trash!

Needless to say, I didn’t get to burn trash for a long time, and Cathy wasn’t so bubbly the next time I saw her, because she thought, “I told on her.”  Of course, I never “smoked” cardboard again.  You know, I still would like to burn our trash, but the burn laws won’t allow it.  It would be good for my garden.

Written by kjskjp

September 28, 2010 at 12:56 am

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