The Great Bonfire

by Jack Foster Mancilla

The bonfires I experienced when going to F.U.H.S. were of two sorts, magnificent and disappointing. I do not know who moved the bonfire from the downtown area out to the school. I just know that the bonfire of my Junior year was more fun than the bonfire of my Senior year.

Oh my senior year fire might have been bigger at the school location and there was more room to run around being goofy, there were fewer things to break, an avocado tree or two if you went way up the hill, not much else out there on the side of the hill away from the Football field. It was just a little colder out there even if the temperature were a little warmer. It was barren up by the football field. … I remembered, the year before, when. …

Downtown! In the empty lot, next to the Real Estate agent, the biggest pile of pallets, two-by-fours, old avocado cases and any other piece of wood we could find topped off with someone’s grandma’s chair. Now what old lady was going to sit in that chair anyway? And who put it up there in the first place?

We were bundled against the cool weather. The fire had not even been started. It was just a giant pile of wood. Damn! It was impressive to my little mind. People started gathering early, big smiles on their faces, talking, laughing, expectantly picking the best spot to see the fire from. The excitement that was in everyone’s heart was displayed for all to see on everyone’s face. Boyfriend and girlfriend hand in hand, arm over shoulder. A little whispered secret just to smell her hair. Standing closer because it was cold, a childish ploy that worked for both. The old people, remembering their youth, gathered, seeing in their sons and daughters the new hope of the world.

The pile of wood, now lighted by someone I never knew, began to burn. People pressed a little closer. The Varsity Cheerleaders, in their red and white uniforms, began their well-rehearsed chants of victory. Damn! We were warriors. Warriors dancing around the fire as it grew higher and hotter, chanting to our football goddesses. “BLAM!” from the secretly hidden firecrackers as they exploded from deep within the pile of burning wood. Laughing coming from the edges of the crowd, from the “bad boys” that had hidden the firecrackers. “Move back.” People said as the fire was just too hot for us to stand so close. Arcing high over our heads from the dark and into the fire, colored bomblets of water balloons.

Hidden in some of our jackets lived multicolored rubber bombs just waiting to be released towards an unsuspecting friend. Water balloons had their own ideas as to where they should wind up. especially if someone like me bumped up against someone like Pat Kraska’s bigger than normal jacket. Some of them even burst in their secret storage area before they were launched, drenching their owner. “Take that, you bad boy!”

As the fire past its peak, the noise from the crowd grew to a peak of its own and the dancing began in ernest. The rhythm of the voices came together, with the stamping of the feet. Out of nowhere came the call. “Snake Dance.” It started out small. Just a little snake around the fire. Slowly at first but more and more people joined in, and the snake grew. All the members of the dancing snake called to the people still standing. “Come on! Lets go!” The snake body grew quicker and moved off in the direction of the head. We snaked back and forth across the street. We blocked Main Street for over an hour. I was just one of the people mid in the snake. To me, it seemed that there were a thousand people following whoever lead us to where ever he or she was going. We snaked in the front door of “Rusty’s Ammo Room” did a loop somewhere in the back and went back out the front door passing another part of the snake going in. The faces of the people sitting in that bar as our snake crawled by for at least 15 minutes is still etched in my mind. In the front door of the old hotel and out the back door. I do not remember the snake dance ending. … As far as I am concerned, that dance never ended.

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