BURN, BABY, BURN!
I think we can all agree that there is nothing quite so sweet, quite so savory, or quite so sanitary as a paper cup full of homemade root beer brewed in your own front yard toilet. Yes sir, that right there is something special. And for those of you lucky enough to have been a guest at a Red Davis Burn, you know the ambrosia of which I speak. For the rest of you, well, I just feel sad. Which is why I’m going to regale you with a little something I like to call, “Tales from the Wood Panelling Days of Mid-seventies Syracuse.”
First of all, it’s important to understand that everything in the 1970’s seemed a little bit grimy. I don’t know why—perhaps it was some sort of law—I just know that even Sesame Street looked gross. I actually remember—before the “Indian with a tear” commercial—driving down the road and asking if it was okay to throw this or that out of the window. From my recollection (which is vague and exaggerated), only glass and metal were off limits. All the rest was considered proper, because at some point in time, it was likely to disintegrate. Never mind that it might take 100 years. The point was, EVENTUALLY, that hamburger wrapper would become dust in the wind.
A Red Davis Burn was no different—it was a study in awesome filth. They had a permanent outhouse installed in their front lawn, a fire pit dug out of the flower garden for wiener roasting, and a toilet bowl of dry ice and homemade root beer stirred with the end of a plunger...probably not the good end...if there is a good end. I think it’s safe to say there were no permits acquired, probably because there were no permits RE-quired. Plus, the Chief of Police would drive past slowly with his hand out the window waiting for somebody to bring him a cup.
Red’s real name was Richard—which I only found out a few years back. I assumed his parents just knew his face would end up being kind of...well...red. Of course, having an uncle named Sput seemed perfectly natural to me, too. Never questioned the notion that my grandparents looked upon their newborn babe and proclaimed, “We shall christen him SPUT!” Turns out, he was born on the day the Russian Sputnik went into space and his given name is just plain old William. Which if you ask me, is a real shame.
Anyway, the call of the Burn howled it’s way through the split level subdivision, and we all met up in the streets at dusk, dragging along our aluminum lawn chairs, as we made our way to the festivities. And though I can’t recall specifics regarding individual fashion sense, I do remember a giant sea of mint green and sky blue polyester. And tough skins. Also comb-overs. And ill conceived mustaches that might now label you a child molester, but we didn’t know better back then.
We’d spend the evening laughing and chatting and swatting at mosquitos while swigging down the tasty brew. The very genteel Bernice Wilcox asked my dad if it was safe to drink. He shook his head no, so she fed hers to the bushes, even as he finished off his third glass. Every grin showed gold caps, and every kid wore bare feet. The children picked at scabs on their knees as they squatted and teetered on the edge of the fire pit, while guardian angels stood watch. With the crowd being by and large mostly LDS, there was a fair amount of home teaching being done, with maybe even a temple recommend interview thrown into the mix, because we were more relaxed back then, friends. It was a simpler time...a simpler, dirtier, spirit of the law sort of time. Which we shall never see the likes of again.
The night would usually end when the sky was dark, the fire died out and our fingers and faces were sticky with marshmallows and soot. We’d bid farewell, fold up our chairs, and with hair smelling of smoke, walk down the middle of the street as we made our way home, happy in the knowledge that the swamp coolers would have kept the air cool and damp for when we entered our unlocked doors.
Red and Esther and nearly all of the Davis family have now gone on to greener pastures, bless their hearts. I would imagine they’ve dug a fire pit on their property, roasted some wieners and filled a few toilet bowls with extract and ice. And likely, those angels who stood watch are now gathered around in their lawn chairs, laughing and cackling with gold capped teeth, recalling days gone by and the kids they scooped and saved from burning embers.
I kind of think that’s what Heaven must be like—a summer night in a safe neighborhood. With unlocked doors, ice cold root beer, and friends and family who have seen you laugh like no one is watching, yet still chose to build their mansions next to yours...
...one more reason to live worthy of such a place.