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FIRE BALL: Families carry on tradition of fun, flames and fellowship

For a few minutes, Ron Ingram stepped deeper into the darkness to see more clearly the amazing star show, light years above. He closed his eyes and listened to the distant conversation and the great time of fellowship that are the hallmark of the New Year’s Fireballing in the Enon Community.

Ingram was one of many who welcomed the New Year by throwing and catching balls of fire in the dark, wintertime night. He was among those who gather each year to carry on the old-time tradition of fireballing and to bask in community fellowship.

The Willie and Melva Grace “Sis” Henderson family revived the fireballing tradition about a quarter century ago and the tradition is in good hands with the Henderson brothers, Durwood, Dennis, Dwight, David, and sister Barbara Henderson Currie. They carry on the family tradition by “throwing” a party to celebrate the coming of each New Year.

“Fireballing is an American tradition that dates back to the Great Depression but it probably is a tradition that started in 16th century Europe,” Barbara Currie said. Fireballing is the art or sport of playing throw and catch with flaming, long-burning kerosene-soaked balls on a dark winter night.

“Back during the Depression, people didn’t have money to buy fireworks so they invented their own,” Currie said. “They made the balls by unraveling old, worn-out cotton socks but it’s hard to find cotton socks now so I use crocheting yarn.”

Currie starts each fireball by wadding up an old cotton sock and winding the yard around it “as tight as Dick’s hatband.” She winds the yarn until the ball is a good throwing size and sews it so it won’t unravel. The balls are soaked in kerosene for several months so they will burn long and bright.

This year, Currie made 40 fireballs.

“That’s the limit,” she said. “I make the balls when I’m sitting watching TV or when I’m on a road trip. It’s relaxing and it’s something I enjoy doing. Fireballing is a tradition for our family and something that we can do to bring families and community together.”

Pam Lambert has been participating the Hendersons’ fireballing event for about six years. She said the annual fireballing does bring family and community together in a “traditional” kind of way.

“Fireballing is a kind of fellowship and fun that you don’t see much anymore and it’s something that you want friends to experience,” she said. “Throwing balls of fire might seem a little ridiculous but it’s a lot of fun and it’s tradition.

“My dad threw and caught the fireballs barehanded but I’m wimpy. I use gloves. But either way, it’s fun to be a part of old-timey fun and a part of carrying on a family tradition and an American tradition.”

Ron Ingram participated in fireballing, first when he had an opportunity to be a “big boy” and play with his older cousins. Now, as a granddaddy teaching his 11-year-old grandson, Tristan, the art of fireballing.

“It’s great for young people to have a chance to laugh and have fun without having to buy something,” Ingram said. “It’s great to just have fun caring about each other and loving each other. The Hendersons and Barbara and her husband, Harold Currie, do all of the work and they do it because they love their neighbors. All we do is show up and have fun. 

“That’s the way service-minded people are. They do what they do out of love for their family, their friends and their community. That’s what were are all supposed to be – servants to others.”

Ingram said he couldn’t put into words what it means to him and, surely, the community to have an opportunity to be a part of a tradition.

“I don’t tell the Hendersons enough what it means to me — to our community — to have a chance to come together to share in a tradition that is all about family and community, about caring about each other,” Ingram said. “That’s what fireballing means to me.”