I was young, only 6 years old. Although I don't understand it, I do remember what happened, how I felt. Let me tell you about it.
It was an early summer evening and I heard my mother call me home for supper. For a while, I pretended I didn't hear her. Then I headed home, dejected that I had to do something as boring as eat supper when I could play.
As I walked along with my head down, the rest of the kids continued playing kick the can. I kicked disgustedly at the gravel at the side of the road with my bare feet. The remains of a brush and leaf pile a man had burned in front of his house was upon me before I realized it. But, I never hesitated or missed a step and began walking through it.
At the edge of the 12- or 15-foot-long pile, the powdery soft gray ashes felt pleasant to my feet. Closer to the center of the pile, the ashes began to feel warm. But, they still felt pleasant as I kicked along. Several feet in the center were red-hot coals, covered by mounds of ashes at the top.
Jumping and screaming, I took one, two, three, maybe four steps before I could get out of the hot coals. I ran gingerly, falling and landing in the ditch with my feet sending messages of pain to my brain.
A friend heard my screams and came running to my rescue. He tried to calm me down, told me not to cry. I only screamed louder. He didn't know what to do, but stayed with me.
My father was driving by a half a block away with a truckload of cattle on his way to Indianapolis. Somehow, my friend got his attention or my father heard my screaming. I don't know which. But he came and got me and carried me home.
It's not quite clear to me what happened for a while after that. I vaguely remember the doctor looking at my feet and trying to get me to shut up. Didn't happen. He smeared lard on both feet and wrapped them with gauze.
One of the neighbors suggested to my mother that a local farmer who could "blow fire" be called. By the time he arrived from the field, I had been screaming for well more than an hour. The doctor had done me no good at all. I awaited the farmer who blew fire hopefully, yet skeptically.
When he arrived, he told my mother that he didn't know what he could do since the doctor had put the lard on my feet. But he would try if she wanted him to. She did. So did I.
Between cries of pain and tears of anguish, I watched his kind face and steady eyes (that I can still see clearly today) as he unwrapped the bandages from my feet. Tenderly, he held first one foot then the other with one hand and blew through a finger of the other hand at my burned feet.
His eyes never left his job. Although I hoped he could help, I looked at him and knew almost that there was nothing neither he nor anybody else was going to be able to do for me. But as he blew, the fire seemed to leave my feet and my crying and screaming subsided.
Not quit, subsided.
He left to do his evening chores and returned in an hour or so and went through the process again. By the time he had finished the second time, even my blubbering had quit. My feet were tender, but they no longer burned. It wasn't long before I was asleep, exhausted.
In a few days, the water was drained from the massive blisters on the bottoms of my feet. My mother pulled me around in a little red wagon until my feet were healed and I could walk again.
Since then, I've tried to explain and understand how the pain left my feet. I've attributed it to the fact that I was young and wanted to believe, that I simply became exhausted and went to sleep and the burn went away, that I ... . But I've been burned since, and the burning sensation lingers for hours, even days.
Whatever happened, the pain of the burn doesn't go away as quickly now as it did back then. And the burns since haven't been quite so bad, either. I don't know.
I do know that many people believed the fire could be blown out of a burn. These people claimed it takes no special ability to be able to do it. Anyone can learn it, they said, if they could find somebody to tell them how.
Here's how they said it works: As the fire blower ministers to the burn victim, he or she blows over his or her fingers at the burned area, but doesn't let the breath touch the burn. While he or she is doing this, he or she repeats several designated words over and over in his or her mind.
The surface technique is simple. Anyone can learn it by watching or reading the above paragraph. The words are another thing. I have never found anyone who would tell me what they were. Nor did anybody know their origin, but they thought they were partially Biblical.
The fire blowers believe that for anyone to be able to blow fire, a man who knows the words must tell a woman, never a man. And he can't tell a relative. Then a woman can tell a man, never a woman. Nor can she tell a relative.
None of these people were allowed to take money for their services, they said. They only claimed that they could take the fire out of the burn so it wouldn't hurt; they didn't claim that they could cure the burn, eliminate scars from severe burns to alleviate the pain caused by tenderness.
Perhaps it's only folklore; perhaps there's nothing to it; perhaps it exists only in the mind. I don't know. I only know that one time a long time ago a man blew the fire out of my feet. At least I thought he did.