The Farm Chronicles: Hair on Fire

My parents had a lot of really great friends. Our families were together so often that us kids were like brothers and sisters and the adults were our parents. These were friends that mom and dad had since they were children. They all grew up in the same farm area, and most remained there until they went home to be with the Lord. Warren and Sue McCarthy, Betty and Gene Flynn, Lloyd and Sue Pardee, and several others were regulars at the farm on the weekends. Often, we would have large meals together on Sunday and the afternoon was spent in a food coma with Gene and dad sacked out on our living room couches snoring away, while others visited and played. We also had many adventures, some good, some not.

We often went to Cook Forest, a state park in Northwestern Pennsylvania, for weekend camping trips. Packing for these trips was a great affair—making sure we had all our supplies, sleeping bags, saws, hatchets and axes for firewood, and lots of hot dogs, hamburgers, and marshmallows to cook on those wonderful, smokey campfires. Once there, we would find an appropriate camp site and begin the unpacking. A lot of packing and unpacking. It was still quite the wilderness there in the 1950s-60s. Primitive outhouses, hand pumps for water, Smokey the Bear signs. We had to make sure the food was secure at night because racoons and bear would be snooping around for whatever goodies they could get. If food wasn’t secure, at daybreak the camp would look like a war zone of leftovers strewn about and trailing into the forest.

One particular camping expedition, however, was particularly difficult. We were setting up camp, and of course, I wanted to help. So Dad sent me into Warren’s pickup truck to fetch a hammer out of the back. I was climbing around trying to find the hammer when I slipped and landed on the teeth of a large two-man saw. The saw tooth had went deep into the inside of my thigh. I was bleeding and we were too far away from any civilization to drive me to a doctor, so Sue used some bandages and tape to apply pressure and stop the bleeding. Never did get it checked and to this day I have a 1” X 1” scar that looks incredibly like an old saw tooth. But that was just the beginning omen of this ill-fated trip.

The Flynns’ were styling. They had a small camping trailer. We were all sitting around the table in that camper one night and the kerosene lantern wasn’t working right. Dad was pumping it, and in a flash, it exploded catching the trailer on fire. Amid the commotion, Dad picked me up by my hair, which had caught on fire, and threw me out the door and I hit the ground and kept running. And even though his arm was on fire, he made sure everyone else was out before he emerged from the smoldering remains of the camper. It was a trip to forget, but we all remember it. Gave new meaning to Acts 2:3: “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.” I have no doubt, though, that the Holy Spirit was guiding Dad’s quick actions, the night I ran like my hair was on fire—because it was.

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Bill Wilson