How the Heck Did I Survive Childhood? Part 2

Writing about Girl Scouts yesterday reminded me of another Girl Scout inspired disaster. In fourth grade (9 years old) I spent a week being bused to a local park for day camping. You had to bring a bag lunch each day. After exiting the buses, the first order of business was to make buddy burners.  We spent several hours cutting strips of corrugated cardboard which the troop leaders put in a box. We then set off on a nature hike. By the time we returned the buses were there to pick us up. Before boarding, we were given a list of supplies to bring the next day. It consisted of a block of parafin, a clean empty tuna can, a clean, empty coffee can and string.

You can imagine how thrilled our moms were to have to run around opening tuna cans and emptying coffee cans that evening. Not to mention my dad being sent out to get a block of paraffin. It wasn't something readily available at home.

The next day we returned with all required materials. Out came the tools to the delight and horror of a hoard of 9-year old girls. This was a long process since there were only two can openers. I'm referring to the kind that make a v-shaped opening in a can. We were instructed to make 3 holes on each side of the bottom of the coffee can which would be the "stove". The troop leader then took tin snips and cut a little opening in the top edge of the can so the tuna can could slide through it. It's a good thing that kids back then got vaccinated for everything on earth including tetanus because the ragged metal edge necessitated the first aid kit being whipped out to stop the bleeding on several wee fingers. Not all 9-year olds are that coordinated.

We went on a short hike and when we returned the corrugated strips sat in a pile on a picnic table. Mrs. Martin, the troop leader proceeded to show us how to make the "burner" and roll the strips like a cinnamon roll laying about four 3-inch strings evenly spaced out as we rolled. It was very important to make a really tight roll which was then jammed into the tuna can making a kind of candle. We were sent home that night with instructions to melt the paraffin and pour it into the tuna can till it was full, making sure the string didn't get lost since those were the wicks. You can imagine how thrilled the parents were having to "sacrifice" a pan to melt the paraffin, praying it didn't ignite. My mom put out a box of baking soda just in case we needed to douse an inferno of paraffin on the stove.

The burners cooled overnight and in the morning we all boarded the bus with our "stoves". Mrs. M. inspected them all and "helped" a few but overall we were good to go. So we went on another hike and were sent home with our stoves and instructions to bring a cube steak, potato, paper plate and spatula for  the next day.

The last day was to be the triumphant, culinary culmination of all our pioneering efforts...we were going to cook the cube steak and potato for lunch. Supervising 20 or so 9-year olds in lighting their tuna cans on fire and then shoving the flaming can into the upside down coffee cans took a lot of courage. Many of the girls were afraid to light the cardboard matches. The string didn't want to burn like a candle would and once under the coffee can would snuff out. Meaning burnt little fingers from trying to retrieve the tuna can to re-light it. The paraffin in one of the girls' cans went up in flames in a very un-candle like manner resulting in screaming on the part of everyone near her. She burst into tears. Ironically, her cube steak was the only one that actually was sort of cooked.

This fiasco went on for quite a while with the leader insisting that this would work. Finally she determined that the cube steaks were "done" and we should eat. At this point I'm surprised we didn't start a forest fire or get deathly ill from eating warmed raw meat. Most of us silently declared this a total disaster and relayed the raw meat experience to our parents who were not happy. Needless to say, I never went to summer day camp ever again.

After all these years I think I discovered the problem. The correct directions on several sites state: "To use the stove, light the paraffin-soaked cardboard in the tuna can and get it burning well. Set the large can over it flat side up. The top of the large can soon will get quite hot. Plunk your hamburger patty (or whatever) on the can top and cook it (while your potato is baking in tinfoil in the coals of the campfire). Mrs. Martin must have felt the need for more control over the burner so rather than just light the paraffin-covered cardboard filled can and let it burn, she decided to include wicks. Here's a video I found on You-tube that shows exactly what the burner should look like and no wicks were involved. The potatoes never did get used.



Blogger carla said...

Your personal story about "A Child's Garden of Verses" and your teddy bear on My Messy Thrilling Life's community ... what is it exactly? A conversation is how I think of it.

And this story about the handmade camp stoves reminds me of a similar incident at church camp. We were supposed to have hamburger patties, chopped potatoes, onions and carrots in wrapped tinfoil cooked in a bonfire.

And with us, too, the meat was undercooked as well as the vegetables. I think all I ate that night were the crunchy potatoes and carrots.

Actually, these stories make me feel a little better about some of my fiascoes teaching children how to do things. I guess the adults were not always well prepared when we were kids, either.

4/25/11, 8:26 PM  
Blogger Christine said...

Hi Carla, Brin had asked about a book that affected your life and "A Child's Garden of Verses" was my story about how special this book was in my life and all the circuitous connections back to it as I've grown up. I survived a terrible disease and the book and teddy were my only companions when I was in ICU Isolation in 1953 for a month with spinal meningitis. A fairly fatal disease at the time. The balance of the story is how this book or memories and facts connected to it have resurfaced through my life. For more info on meningitis see: . I was one of the very lucky and blessed ones. Thank you for asking! Loved your campfire cooking tale and yes, I think parenting is always a work in progress.

4/26/11, 6:13 PM  

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