Christmas in the Deep South, very short
It was Christmas and in the South, that meant fireworks. Fireworks of any and every sort.
I was the petted darling of my uncles, my father's four younger brothers. As the only girl-child born into the family in a generation, I was a miracle, a treasure, a fragile ornament like one of the shining glass balls hung on the cedar tree, something to be hedged about with wards and guards. My uncles had found somewhere a little packet of sparklers and hidden it away until this night when they sat me on a pile of quilts on the far side of the ditch, safely removed from the arena in which they would play their parlous game. One of them wrapped a scrap of tinsel around my untidy head and another put one of the sparklers in my chubby hand. A third lighted the slender wand and the fourth clapped his hands at the sight. Then they were off to the darkened yard to begin the game leaving me magically illumined by the twinkling flares.
The game did not have a name or rules or any of the other niceties which usually define a game. It just was. And it was only played at Christmas. In the dark.
There was only one thing needed for the game - unless you count recklessness and young male stupidity. The game required a series of ball- like objects. These were formed mostly from socks worn past darning and hoarded during the previous year. The socks were folded into each other and packed and stretched until they formed compact spheres each about the size of a fist with no dangling parts. No extra binding was permitted; only the tightly wound socks were acceptable.
When as many of these game pieces as material sufficed for had been fashioned during the week before the holiday, they were dropped into jugs of kerosene to soak and thoroughly marinate until the night.
The sharp reek of the fuel was the signal that the game was about to begin. Two of my uncles positioned themselves on each side of the little frame farmhouse. With a wild whoop, Uncle Doc pulled one of the fabric balls out of its oily bath. He squeezed it as hard as he could in his big calloused hands, letting the excess liquid stream back into the jug. Then, after wiping his hands one after the other on the seats of his overalls, he held out the still sodden orb for Uncle Ady to light with one of the long wooden kitchen matches he had stored in his bib pocket. As the wad of socks blazed up, Doc drew back his arm and threw it with its comet's tail of fiery droplets over the roof of the house to where Uncles Will and Art waited to catch it and send it flying back. As each ball burned out, another was retrieved, lighted and set into play.
In the balmy darkness, the sight of the flaming sphere arcing over the little house and the exultant, challenging howls of the four young men took on the aura of a savage ceremony - not one to celebrate the birth of a sacred babe in a strange land but one to rouse the warrior hearts of a Celtic race and spur them to conquest.
There was something ancient and ancestral which touched even me, a girl-child enthroned like a just named queen on a pile of quilts, holding a sparkler as my scepter.