The red tip fell apart as it struck the worn black edge of the box. It simply crumbled, so that nothing was left except a bare wooden stick without a flame. It was my last match.
My fingers were not frozen, as the character’s fingers in Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” were. The man tries so desperately to get his matches to burn. His feet are wet, his fire was doused by falling snow from the tree above, and he grasps a whole bunch of matches in his frozen hands in an attempt to light them. He succeeds in lighting the matches; but they all fall into the snow, extinguishing, leaving him to an icy death.
Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Match Girl faces a similar fate. She is not alone in the Yukon Territory like the desperate man above. She must sell her matches before she goes home, however, or she will face a beating from her father. She lights match after match to stay warm on a wintry New Year’s Eve, until finally her grandmother comes down to take her up to heaven. Her frozen body is found with a burnt bundle of matches in her hand and a smile upon her face.
I was only trying to light a candle. That last match was for want, not necessity.
Do you remember when you learned how to strike a match? My father taught me when I wasn’t more than seven or eight years old. I had to learn to be sure and quick and to strike the match firmly against the black strip, then move my fingers away from the flame quickly lest they get scorched. I soon become the family candle-lighter. I would light the candles we had on our dining room table in the evenings before dinner, which added a nice little touch to our family meal.
I used to have a stockpile of matchboxes. Matchbooks from weddings, white with little gold bells on the front, the happy couple’s names embossed on the cover. Boxes of matches from bars and restaurants, free advertising placed in the ashtrays. I would take them even though I didn’t smoke; I had plenty of other uses for a good box of matches.
It is now illegal to smoke in restaurants and bars in Illinois. Matchboxes, to my dismay, have all but disappeared. Including from my kitchen cabinet. I scrounged around and found a long-tipped, liquid-fueled lighter.
Lighting candles with a lighter just isn’t the same. There’s not that satisfying scratchy feel you get when lighting a match. A lighter doesn’t have that same, good sulfur-y smell. My aunt always keeps a book of matches in the powder room next to her kitchen. A good guest, after using the facilities, will light a match, the overpowering smell the whole purpose of lighting that match. A lighter just wouldn’t do.
I suppose I’ll have to give in and go buy some matchboxes instead of getting them for free.