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Burning Trash in Barrel

As part of our “chores,” my brother Timmy and I would do various household tasks such as making our beds and mowing the lawn. Another of those tasks was taking the trash from the waste can in the kitchen to the larger trash can out behind the house. In those simpler times, each house had a large fifty-gallon metal trash can rather than the dual (one for recyclables, of course) plastic bins with wheels that seem to populate the landscape these days. The interesting thing about the metal cans was that they were never rolled to the street for the garbage man to pick up. Instead, the trash was dumped into the can and then lit on fire. When the fire had burned itself out, the only things remaining were some ashes and a few tin cans and glass jars.

For some strange reason, Timmy volunteered for this particular chore, and like Tom Sawyer whitewashing Aunt Polly’s fence, I couldn’t dislodge him from his duties without some sort of bribe. Timmy would leave the house along with the trash and take a gas can with him and some matches from Dad’s stash. Having observed a few of these burnings, I can attest to the fascination I know Timmy must have felt in doing his duty. Sprinkling a good quantity of gasoline onto the trash was the first step in the process. Secondly, a match was lit, and the idea was to throw the lit match into the can—all the while maintaining a safe distance from the sudden explosion of flame that happened next. Safety was definitely first on our list of priorities.

On one occasion, after being gone for an extended period of time, Timmy returned to the house, trying to remain incognito; but as soon as Mom saw him, she said, “Timmy, what’s that smell? It smells like burned hair. Come here, and let me see you.” As Timmy drew closer to Mom, the look on her face was one of horror. “What have you done? Your eyelashes are gone, and so are your bangs. Your eyebrows are singed too!” Timmy didn’t seem to be fazed in the least and offered up his hands as evidence of more damage. All of the hairs on his knuckles and the tops of his hands were gone. This event led to tandem trash burnings, as Timmy couldn’t be trusted to complete the task alone; and alive.