At dusk, we find new sources of light. There’s the fairy strand of twinkle lights on the porch, winking giddily in the wind. And the fireflies, whose green bodies flicker in and out of grass that could stand a mowing. Brightest of all, at the center of our yard, a bonfire spits upward from a steel stove, flames twisting like scarves off a dancer’s body. It’s summer. It’s the start of magic.
Whoever created the s’more—the lore is vague, but it seems generally attributed to a Girl Scout troop in the 1920s—knew something about magic, too. A century later, the formula is the same: soft Graham crackers layered with bars of chocolate that melt beautifully under a heap of hot, browned marshmallow. A dessert sandwich for the young and young-at-heart. They taste almost unbearably sweet, this mixture of two ancient ingredients squished on staid crackers invented by a depravity-hating Presbyterian minister. Now, the s’more is synonymous with warm weather and bare legs, mosquito slapping, uproarious conversations by the dancing fire. In each cloying bite, we consume the promise of summer.
While my husband starts the fire, my daughter and I sit on the swinging bench and spray OFF on our legs. She orbits the tray of s’mores supplies, her fingers popping into the plastic bag for just one marshmallow that she stuffs in her cheeks like a lopsided bunny. This year, we’ve added peanut butter to the mix, in one of those squeezable containers that adds just that extra bit of rich nuttiness. As if the s’more could be improved. My daughter is doubtful, but she promises to give it a try.
"In each cloying bite, we consume the promise of summer."
I don’t remember having s’mores as a child. We were never a campfire family. But my husband enjoys the great outdoors. On the advent of nicer weather, he sniffs the air like an old beagle and says, “Do you smell that? Campfire.” So he has introduced us to wholesome family rituals like these s’mores, and we follow, riveted by the promise of memories, of stories, of licking the sweetness right off our fingers.
My daughter adds her first marshmallow of the season to a long steel stick—not a branch, though there would have been something wholesome and symbolic about using nature’s detritus—and stands as far as she can from the fire. Her marshmallow barely warms. My husband volunteers to roast it for her, and shoves it right into the heart of the fire, where it immediately lights up. What’s left behind is a burnt black shell.
“You eat that one,” she says, wrinkling her nose.
My husband enjoys the blackened marshmallows, whereas I like mine with a light brown crust, similar to the burnt sugar on a crème brûlée. My daughter likes the marshmallow a little gooey, but not brown at all, thank you. She enjoys the peanut butter, but ultimately prefers the old classic trio of ingredients. When we sit for our first bites, the three of us crowded on the swing, we begin telling stories.
“Did I ever tell you about how Daddy and I rode horses up a mountain in Mexico?” I say.
My daughter’s eyes are wide. She says, “More!”
It’s not clear if she means the s’mores or the stories, so I make her another s’more and tell her about how the horses slipped on the narrow trail, how I could see the tumble of rocks down the steep cliff under their hooves. I describe the way my husband and I tried to keep our horses together, but mine liked to wander into bushes, while his angrily insisted on leading the pack, blustering to the front of the trail while shaking his great brown mane.
The sky above us pinks, then takes on a periwinkle wash, reminding me of the coast where I grew up. A sly breeze makes its way across the lawn, which feels like an invitation. For us, there is a stillness that emerges within the in-betweenness of dusk. The day is behind us, but the velvet weight of night hasn’t yet descended. A door opens in our imagination. I can see my daughter taking it in. Her mind is with the horses stomping up the mountain, even while her body is here, on a swing in the Midwest.
What is it about a bonfire that invites secrets? Perhaps it’s the fact that we are all shrouded in darkness, except for the brief glimpses we get of each other’s faces in the flames. Or maybe it’s something about the smell—fire, barely controlled, mingling with Citronella and chocolate. In any case, we are together, and we are still for just a few more moments before the call of bedtime and other responsibilities.
"Her mind is with the horses stomping up the mountain, even while her body is here, on a swing in the Midwest."
I wonder how many years more we have of this. Will there be a time in her teenage years where she will reject the bonfires for a trip to the movies with her friends? Maybe she will go away for college and spend her summers traveling. I want a life of experiences and adventure for her, which means she may not always return to the fires of home. So within each gooey bite, there is a melancholy that coats my tongue, alongside the joy and peace of the evening. Because I understand that I’m capturing a moment of magic that will never be replicated in exactly the same way again. Enchantment is fleeting. Sweetness fades. And what I really want is some more of these summer nights, and then still even more.