Bonfires And Field Parties

Green Grass Field during Sunset

The following little story is a teen’s confession of guilt. It comes forty-years following the infractions were committed and safely following any statutes of limitations or the possibility of being grounded at home for a month.

If you had the extreme pleasure of growing into adulthood when living in the rural regions of Virginia, the odds are very good that you’re familiar with the term ‘field party’. Some more comfortable than others. For any un-knowledgeable urbanites, here is the definition of area party according to the online Urban Dictionary.

“A party held in the middle of a field or farm crop so to prevent parents and police. Usually held by under age partiers and accompanied by a keg purchased by an older sibling.”

In Shenandoah County during the 1970’s, the complete population of the entire county wavered around 25,000 people. That is roughly 48 people per square mile, a great chunk of whom lived-in or close to the half-dozen small towns dotting the middle of the valley. A few of those tiny communities had a nighttime police force of none or one. The legal drinking age was eighteen-years-old, so a high school senior could purchase their own keg of beer.

The conditions were ideal for a field celebration.

The field party checklist:

A area, rather owned by someone you know.

Mims Raccoon Removal
A source of electricity for music. (Car battery, gas generator, extension cords,etc.)
Bonfire, larger the better.
Bathrooms available naturally close to the fence line. No rinse cycle.
We were invited to a big field party by somebody that had heard about it from someone who knew the directions to a person’s farm where the big celebration was held every year. My girlfriend and a few other friends of ours were heading to the party before me ; I’d catch up after I got off work at 9PM.

There was no Interstate highway in those days, so the fifteen mile drive to a field party seemed a bit intense, but apparently well worth the drive out of what we were told. There was no also GPS at the moment, but the directions that I was given seemed simple enough for a country boy to follow.

Before you get into Mt. Jackson, right past Hawkinstown, take a right on Hawkins Road. Drive for just a little bit, you will go over the railroad tracks, then you will pass the radio station. Keep going. You need to see the bonfire from the road. There’ll be a couple of cows facing West on one side of the street. The dirt road on the other side will take you right up the hill to the party. Just listen for the band. You’ll find it no problem.”

I had finished the first 4/5ths of the directions when I saw the glow of the bonfire in the crest of the hilly field. As I got nearer, the silhouettes of dozens of party-goers can be viewed against the towering flames. It looked like the movie trailer for “Quest for Fire”, but with my girlfriend as Rae Dawn Chong and Led Zeppelin providing the soundtrack. As the reins were pulled my slowing Ford Pinto, my eyes frantic glances alternated between the street and its ditch-line, looking for that elusive dirt street, or the landmark of cows.

Then suddenly the road veered sharply and the Pinto went down a muddied ditch. The car was not traveling fast and hit nothing solid, but once it came to a stop, I looked like Neil Armstrong strapped into a capsule simulator, facing downwards after a G-Force training session.

The wheels only spun in the wet mud, the car was going nowhere. So, I did the only reasonable teenaged thing and started walking up the hill to join the party. The car wasn’t going anywhere.

Friends gave me a ride back down the hill after the party. As we neared My Ditch, another car could be found along the street, many young men inspecting the napping Pinto. We pulled up alongside.

“Hey, what is happening fellas?”

“Somebody ran their car down this ditch!”

It’s mine. Guess I’ll need a tow-truck”

Get in and start her up!”

After Neil Armstrong handled his way back into his Apollo rocket ship, the Good Samaritans pushed the car back on the dirt road. Together with my heartfelt thank-yous, I handed the men the luke-warm six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer in the back seat of the car (of which them appeared strangely very appreciative) then followed my friends back into town to get a late-night feast of 7-11 chili dogs.

Pity those who haven’t appreciated the rural life. Great times with great friends spent fireside on a cold night. In the middle of a big open field.

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