Great balls of firePublished 11:00pm Monday, December 31, 2012
Locals celebrate New Year through ‘fireball’ tradition
Lindsay Currie is admittedly, “not a country girl.”
But she surely was acting like one Saturday night.
Currie didn’t even flinch when a ball of fire came “whooshing” by her head. She didn’t bat an eye when her husband, Kendall Currie, scooped up a flaming ball of fire and juggled it to the delight of their twin toddlers. She laughed at the merriment of it.
“I’m originally from Atlanta and I’d never heard of anything like ‘fireballing’ until I came down here,” Lindsay Currie said with a smile.
“Down here” is the Enon community in rural Pike County and “fireballing” is an American tradition that dates back to the Great Depression but probably is an ancient as 16th century Europe.
Fireballing is the “art” or the “sport” of playing throw and catch with flaming, long-burning, kerosene-soaked balls on a dark winter’s night.
Fireballs were the probably the first American “fireworks,” said Barbara Henderson Currie, who along with her brothers, continues to carry on a family tradition that was started by the Willie Henderson family more nearly a quarter century ago.
“We’re just carrying on the family tradition,” said Kendall Currie, whose prideful smile was illuminated by the fireballs that crisscrossed the sky. “I’ve been throwing fireballs since before I was six years old. The first time that Lindsay met my family was at a fireballing. Now, we drive down from Birmingham every year to be a part of it. It’s a tradition that I want our little girls to enjoy. But, I also want them to know that ‘fireballing’ is something you do here and at this time of year.”
On fireballing night, streaks of fire light up the sky in the pasture behind Enon Baptist Church. Unsuspecting motorists might think that they were seeing, as Jessie Stuart wrote, “a foretaste of glory.”
Lynn Bundy, laughingly, said she wonders what those who don’t know about the “fireballing” tradition at Enon community think when they see the sky a-flame.
“They probably think ‘what in the world is going on out there?’” she said. “But, for me and my family, it’s a fun way to celebrate the holidays.”
Bundy said her daughter, Morgan, was, at first, a bit hesitant to toss a fireball but now really has a good time.
“I’m not sure if the children realize that fireballing is a tradition,” Bundy said. “They just see it as fun. When they get older, they’ll appreciate being a part of this tradition.”
Barbara Currie doesn’t think that fireballing is teaching children that it’s all right to play with fire. “It’s tradition they are learning about.”
Currie takes charge of making the fireballs and winds around 30 each year, beginning shortly after New Year’s.
She said that during the Depression people didn’t have money to buy fireworks so they had to invent their own.
“Back then, they made fireballs by unraveling old, worn-out cotton socks, but I use cotton crocheting yarn,” she said. “I start by wadding up an old cotton sock and then winding the yarn around it real tight until I get it a good throwing size. Then I sew it so it won’t unravel.”
Making fireball takes a long time and Currie winds while she’s watching television and backseat driving on road trips.
The balls are soaked in kerosene for several months so they will burn long and bright on the night the Henderson family rolls out a wagon load of bonfire wood and invites all who will to “come fireballing.”
“For a while it was mainly family, now people come from all around and we’re glad to have them,” Currie said.
There’s no set date for the Henderson family fireballing. It could be any time between Christmas and New Year’s that doesn’t interfere with “ballgames.”
Bundy said this year’s fireballing was about the coldest that she can remember.
“There’s always a big bonfire but this year they needed two bonfires,” she said, laughing. “There were so many people around the fire that you couldn’t get close enough. I thought I would freeze.”
From time to time, people would leave their place around the fire long enough to grab a bowl of chili or a hotdog or two.
“People bring food to share so fireballing is more than throwing balls of fire,” Bundy said. “It’s a community coming together to celebrate the holidays in an old-fashioned, fun way. And, we all love it. It’s a family and community tradition that not many people have an opportunity to enjoy.”