By Tim Hayes
So it wasn’t exactly Tom Sawyer and his gang. We never faked our own deaths, explored in mysterious caves, or floated down a river on a raft. But we did bake some potatoes. Sort of.
Right behind the houses across the street from mine stood a field. A miracle of a field. Flat, level, with two enormous oak trees that stood the perfect distance apart to serve as the goal lines for two-hand touch football. The young male marauders of our neighborhood spent most of our summers on or around that field. The wind got knocked out of me for the first time on that field. I learned that I could kick a football farther than I could throw one on that field. We loved that field.
But you can only play so much football when you’re 11 before your attention span darts away.
So one sweltering afternoon, one of the guys pipes up with a bright idea. “Let’s make a fire pit and bake potatoes,” he says.
“Yeah, let’s do it!” we all affirmed, thereby cementing our reputation as cement-heads. Why, you may be asking, on a 95-degree July day, would anybody want to light an open fire to bake and eat scalding hot potatoes in a field?
Because of the adventure behind it, that’s why. Duh.
We divvied up the assignments to pull off this stunt. One guy had to find bricks to make a circle around the fire pit. (We did have enough sense to avoid burning down our field, you have to give us that much credit.) One guy had to find sticks to make the fire, another to sneak out a roll of aluminum foil from home to wrap around the potatoes, another to get matches, another to get lighter fluid, and each of us had to go home and pilfer a raw potato from our mothers’ kitchens.
In those days, most of our moms stayed home during the day, adding a layer of cunning and creativity in our quixotic quest to bake these potatoes. Yet somehow it all came together 30 minutes later back on our field.
We picked our spot for the fire, ripped out enough grass to make a circle of dirt, laid the bricks around the edge, positioned the sticks in the middle, wrapped foil around the spuds, and waited for the magic to begin.
The kid in charge of aluminum acquisition faulted at his post a bit, meaning that a couple of the potatoes would have to go into our backyard barbecue buck naked. Let’s just say this guy would never make quartermaster on a submarine. But this thing had elevated itself from a half-baked idea into the chance to half-bake some potatoes, and such sacrifices had to be made.
Lighter Fluid Guy dumped enough of the stuff on those sticks to launch one of the Apollo lunar shots. Matches Guy struck one, tossed it onto the pit, and we all came THIS close to becoming pre-adolescent flambé before the fire receded enough to drop our potatoes on top and await the culinary delights sure to result.
When you’re 11, the concept of time hasn’t quite developed fully just yet. Also, you don’t really have a good grasp of the difference between baking and roasting. What that translated to for us that searingly hot day, after giving our mid-afternoon meal about 10 minutes on that fire – remember, we had the attention span of a rock – were potatoes too hot to hold yet too raw to eat. Naturally, nobody thought of plates or forks, much less salt, butter, or sour cream.
So we spat out the lousy stuff, tossed the uneaten potatoes into the nearby woods (actually I might have kicked mine, for greater distance), threw dirt on the fire (we had a couple Cub Scouts who knew that stuff), and started a new football game.
I’m not sure, but probably a half-hour later we got bored again and started some other ridiculous venture. Maybe whitewashing a fence.
Copyright 2015 Transverse Park Productions LLC and Tim Hayes Consulting