It didn’t seem like a big deal. Go to the store and bring the fixings for s’mores, enough for the guys at the prison camp, a couple of staff members, and me.
I was going to bring my guitar and sing some campfire songs, but time got away from me, the day turned hectic and I didn’t have time to go back home and get my guitar and songbook.
I shouldn’t have worried. The evening wasn’t about campfire songs and providing some entertainment. It was all about just getting together and doing something fun, about trying something new, and hanging out, just to hang out.
There were some nice coals and a bit of a flame going in the half barrel barbecue outside by the picnic table. Several young men laughingly grabbed my grocery bags out of my hands and began ripping open the bags of marshmallows, shoving them onto the willow roasting sticks.
My buddy, the staff member, was there, tending the fire, and teaching S’mores Making 101. He was the organizer of this festival, wanting to show these young men a bit about relaxing and having a good time, how to just hang out and be themselves.
Soon, a dozen sticks were thrust over the coals and the flames, and young faces focused on the miracle of marshmallows turning from white to toasty brown, and, sometimes, into small torches of sugary crunchy blackness.
Gooey marshmallows soon melted chocolate onto graham crackers, and were stuffed into eager young mouths. There was more laughter, young men slipping back into boyhood, with big smiles and eyes bright with the excitement of s’mores making. Some boys looked around, not quite sure what to do, how they should act.
After all, this wasn’t organized, like lining up for chow, or going to school, or even going out on the work crew, or off to wood shop or the garden. There weren’t any rules here, any protocol or prison regimen. The only expectation was to just hang out, have a good time, and roast a marshmallow on a willow stick.
“How do you do this?”
“I’ve never made s’mores before.”
“What do we do?” a young man asked, looking lost, unsettled.
I handed him a willow stick, and asked him to stick a fresh marshmallow on it.
“Here. Now hold it over the coals, and let it slowly turn brown.”
He looked at me, a bit puzzled.
“Yeah, then when it gets brown, we’ll take a graham cracker, and smash it all together, with a piece of chocolate. The marshmallow will melt the chocolate, and it will turn into a sweet, gooey mess. You’ll love it,” I said.
“I’ve never done this before,” he said.
“So, how’s your day been?” I asked, drawing him into some small talk. We were supposed to just hang out, after all, and just have a good time.
The tension in the group eased off a bit when the first s’mores were made, and popped into questioning, suspicious mouths.
“Oh, man. That’s good!” the guy first in line at the fire said, his words muffled by his first bite into his sweet chocolate, marshmallow, and graham cracker sandwich.
“Yeah, told you so,” a staff member said, chuckling at the sight of the first of the Doubting Thomases at the s’mores roast.
Some guys still hung out at the edge, not sure what to do, not sure of what was expected of them at this new event in their lives.
“What do we do now?” one guy asked me, a look of worry crossing his face, a bit of melted chocolate daubed on his chin.
“Just hang out, have a good time,” I said. “Just have fun.”
“Oh. Uh, OK,” he answered, hesitant, still a bit antsy about this new activity in his life.
“So, what are you working on in the wood shop?” I asked.
He eased up, and began describing his project, and how he’d figured out the design, and found the right kind of wood, how the teacher showed him a new way of joining the pieces together, so that his box would be stronger, and complement his design.
Other conversations filled the air, as the guys mingled with each other, and went back for seconds and thirds on their desserts. One guy talked about a camping trip he’d had when he was a kid. A few guys just shook their heads.
“Never did that,” one guys said. “But, I will. Some day.”
Other guys talked about the deer they saw the other day back behind the tree farm, and the eagles that would soar overhead some days, high above them as they worked in the trees, or mowed the lawn.
The last of the graham crackers and marshmallows soon disappeared, and the chocolate was ancient history. A few guys were browning up the remnants of marshmallows off of the willow sticks, playing in the last of the coals. They picked up the last of the night’s gooey mess from the sticks with sticky fingers, murmuring their contentment with tonight’s dessert.
The evening light began to fade a bit, and the young men began to wander back inside, getting ready for their showers and bed time. It was time for me to go, too, my mission accomplished.
“That was a blast,” one young man said to me, as he helped me clean up the wrappings and stack the willow sticks by the barbecue.
“I never knew what s’mores were,” he said. “And just hanging out, having a good time around the fire. That was really fun.”
“Can we do this again?”