Light the Match!

What a day!

It had been a beautiful time–the stuff of dreams for the skinny boy.  Twelve years old, he was on his first real camp out.  The two-hour ride to the lake in the back of the old pickup truck wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as it might sound.  Besides, Mr. Bell had the foresight to find a place about halfway to the campsite where the group of Junior High boys could play a game of basketball in an old dilapidated gymnasium.

When they reached the lake, the tattered old tent was erected quickly as all of the eight or so boys and their two leaders pitched in.  The tent had seen a lot of these trips over the years Mr. Bell had given his time for groups just like these boys.  They didn’t care.  It looked perfect to them. 

That job complete, they grabbed their cheap Zebco spinning rods and reels from the floor of the truck and headed down to the lake to see what they could catch for supper.

The skinny kid chewed on the stem of a match as he cast his hook out again. All he had snagged so far was a tiny bream or two, and he wasn’t about to keep them.  The rest of the boys had about the same luck, but still, there were a couple of perch caught worth keeping. 

They weren’t worried about starving.  The cooler packed with hot dogs was back at camp, along with the makings for S’mores.  Even the boys who couldn’t stand the taste of fish were assured of having a decent meal.  There were a couple dozen eggs in the cooler, too.  Breakfast would come, in time.

“Time to head back up to camp, boys!”  The big voice from Mr Bell, himself a big man, echoed across the lake.

From all along the shore, the boys groaned, but they dutifully wound up their lines and headed for the tent and a hot meal.  Before that could happen, there was a fire to be built and even a couple of fish to be cleaned. 

The skinny kid wearing the horn-rimmed glasses knew how to clean fish, so he volunteered to help while the others gathered kindling and firewood.  Scraping scales and removing the unneeded parts of the perch would be messy work, so he took the match from between his teeth and dropped it into his pocket.  It would be safe there.

He finished his part of the job before the others began returning with the makings for the fire, so he headed up the trail toward the restrooms.  Not that the boy was all that fastidious, but fishy hands needed to be washed.  Even he couldn’t eat with hands covered with scales and. . .  Well, you get the picture.

He approached the little wooden structure and, finding a young bat with its wings spread clinging to one of the window screens, spent a few minutes trying to coax it into flight with a long sprig from a nearby mesquite tree.  It wouldn’t budge, so finally he just found the water faucet and washed up in the cold water.

Clean again and drying his hands on his tee shirt,  he headed back down, realizing as he did that the wind off the lake had picked up quite a bit.  It was unusual for the month of June, causing him to shiver a little as he felt the cool gusts in his face.

No matter.  The fire would be going soon.  They would be warm enough.

The boy arrived at the campsite just in time to hear Mr. Bell ask the question.

“Well, now what do we do?  Does anybody else have matches?”

The situation was immediately clear to the lad.  Someone had forgotten to check the match supply.  When the box was opened, only three of the sulphur and pine fire-starters were to be found.

“No problem,” Mr. Bell had said.  “It only takes one.”

He had lit the match and then shoved it down toward the newspaper wadded among the kindling.  The wind snuffed it out on the way down.  The second followed, with the same result.

Carefully shielding the third and last match in his hand and keeping it right next to the paper, he managed to get the flaring flame to light the edge.  Still shielding the blazing kindling, he waited a moment before backing away.  A gust of wind puffed the flame out in that instant.

lighted-match“Anybody?”  The big voice was almost plaintive as Mr. Bell repeated the word.  “A match?”

The skinny boy clamped his mouth shut.  He said not one word about the match in his pocket.  Not a word.

Two things kept him quiet.  The first thing was a little silly.  But, not to him, it wasn’t. 

The match was his.  His.  And, nobody else’s. 

What’s that?  Selfish, was it?  Sure.  But, he wasn’t wrong.  It was his.  Besides that, the second thing wasn’t silly at all.  Well, maybe a little silly, but again, not to him.

He needed that match.  In case.

In case what? 

Duh!  If he was starving, he could light a fire to cook something.  If he was freezing, he could get warm.  If he was lost in the wilderness, he could build a signal fire to attract attention.

His.  His last match.

If they used that match and it blew out, all hope would be gone.  No chance of a fire over which to cook, nor to be warmed by.  As long as it remained unlit, he had hope.

No fire, but hope.

They ate cold hotdogs and chocolate bars with whole marshmallows that night.  There were no fried eggs for breakfast the next morning either.  Bread and apples slices.  That was what the shivering boys ate before they broke camp to head back home.

The skinny kid kept the match in his pocket all the way home.

Silly, huh?  Dumb twelve-year-old kid.

What adult would think like that?  Why would anyone keep quiet about a treasure they had hidden which could be of value to others?

What good is hope if a person never bothers to put it to the test?

When I write, there is usually no dearth of words to make my point.  The narrative complete, I always have a moral to offer.  Tonight should be no different.

But, I don’t want to fill the page with more words.

You see, the twelve-year old kid still lives in me. 

Maybe, it’s time to light the match and see what happens.



“But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”
(I John 3:17 ~ NASB)


“One who cannot cast away a treasure at need is in fetters.”
(from The Two Towers ~ J.R.R.Tolkien ~ English author/poet ~ 1892-1973)



© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2015. All Rights Reserved.

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