FIREBALLING: Henderson carries on family tradition

Published 9:10 pm Monday, January 6, 2020

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The locals and others, pulled their vehicles onto the Enon roadway Saturday night and people spilled out like jelly beans out of jar. They made a beeline to the balls of fire that littered the pasture, grabbed a ball of fire and, “chunked it.”

For 30 years now, the Willie Henderson family has been hosting a community fireball throwing some time during the Christmas/New Year’s holidays, depending on the  weather, ball games and other major things.

Barbara Henderson Currie, said fireball throwing is more of a tradition in her mother’s family, the Ingrams, than in her dad’s But the tradition of fireballing is deeply rooted in the Elon/Josie communities thanks to Barbara Currie and her brothers Dennis, Durwood, Dwight and David. Each winter holiday season, the brothers bush hog the pasture, open the gate and “throw” a community party like no other.

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The darkness of Saturday night was diminished by the yellow/orange light of fireballs zooming through the air, bounding across the pasture and being tossed from one to another. Seemingly, there were more throwers/catchers than ever before.

“Harold and I were so busy lighting the fireballs that I really didn’t notice, but my brothers thought is was the largest number of people we have ever had,” Currie said. “It was fun, as it always is. Hopefully and prayerfully, we’ll be able to continue with fireballing. It is a family tradition and a community tradition.”

For 28 of the fireball throwing years, Barbara Currie has wound buckets of cotton thread into tightly wound balls and then put them into kerosene to soak for up to three months to be ready for fire balling. But she has turned the winding of the balls over to two nieces and she just lights them and puts them to play along with her husband, Harold.

The fireballs have to be made from 100 percent cotton,” Currie said. “I can remember Mother telling how her family would sit around the fireplace during the long winter nights and unravel their old socks and wind the strings into fireballs. Back then, the fireballs were thrown on the Fourth of July and Christmas, too, — a poor man’s fireworks.”

Currie said it’s difficult to find “all-cotton” socks these days, so she relies on crocheting yarn for her fireballs.

“I start with an old sock for the core of each fireball,” Currie said. “I’d just wad it up and then start tightly winding yarn around the sock. At some point, I’d stop winding and start stitching. If you don’t sew the balls together, they will fall apart when they start burning.”

But not one of the 40 fireballs for 2020 fell apart. And not one person left the fire ball throwing disappointed.

Norma Turner of Brundidge is a more recent fire ball thrower.

“Fireball throwing was new to me,” she said. “The first time I came I was a little hesitant to try picking up a flaming ball but once I tried it, I was hooked,” Turner said. “I it’s a different way to celebrate New Year’s or Christmas. It’s family fun and it’s community fun and I want it to be part of my family tradition.”

Turner said she brought several new fireballers along and they were hooked on the first catch and throw.

“Those who say fireball throwing is teaching kids to play with fire are wrong,” she said. “Kids know that fireballing is a one-time a year thing and that they must be with an adult and respect what fire could do.”

Currie agreed. “We’re not teaching children to play with fire,” she said. “We’re teaching them about traditions.

Fireball throwing started in America in the early 1920s but the tradition probably originated “across the big pond” as early as the 16th or 17th centuries. A tradition worth preserving? Just ask anyone who has ever been fireballing.