May 4, 2009


As a co-worker was taking me on a tour of the Greenwood area west of Weatherford, Texas, we passed the Greenwood Rural Volunteer Fire Department and just past it was this Smokey Bear sign. I asked her to pull over so I could take a photo of it.

When I was a kid in the '60s and early '70s the three networks back then, CBS, NBC and ABC, always had public service commercials that featured Smokey telling you how to prevent fires. But, nowadays, he's completely disappeared off the radar screen in Americans' consciousnesses.

In fact, when I was 7 or 8, I found a box of matches. So I snuck behind a Dumpster in the Section 8 apartments, the James Avenue Apartments off of Crowley Road but are now called something different, me and my sister and mom lived in at the time, and started firing up each match and watched it burn and smelled the smoke and then tossed them behind me into a tall field of grass during the middle of a Texas summer. Once I was done with the matches I went back to our apartment from which you could see the Dumpster and the field. Soon enough I heard sirens. LOTS OF SIRENS. I looked out the window, and to my shock, that field was ablaze, bright yellow flames flying high, and there were six or seven big fire trucks lined up, probably thinking the apartments were on fire and not just that field of grass. Fortunately, the firefighters, true heroes, put the fire out and no one was hurt and nothing was damaged.

I kept my mouth shut about it. Told no one I'd been behind there doing what I'd done. I kept that secret with me into my 30s. I think the first person I admitted it to was my first ex-wife and, later on, I told both my sister and mom and they were like, "Oh, wow, YOU did that!?!"

So, kids, take Smokey the Bear seriously when he says not to play with matches ("Smokey N' Da Boyz" animated music video). He ain't lying.

UPDATE: The co-worker informs me, "Remember that Smokey Bear that was outside of the volunteer fire department? Well, during the 2008 Christmas holidays someone first vandalized him and knocked him down and then someone stole him. There is a $1000 reward for information on the whereabouts/return of Smokey Bear."

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