If there was one thing we looked forward to during the Christmas holidays second only to Santa’s arrival was firecrackers. I don’t remember going to the big tents set up outside of town. In those days firecrackers were sold at the corner stores – even the Mowata Store.
My Dad loved firecrackers almost as much as us kids. He would do exactly what Mom told us not to: light the firecracker in our hand and throw it. That was just crazy, but it sure looked like fun. There were a few errant firecrackers that may have burned a hand or two before we perfected the ignition to launch timing so that the firecracker was at least four feet from our hands before it exploded.
Sparky and John brought out something new one year. They called it a roaming candle. That sounded intriguing to me. They always bought exotic fireworks such as whistlers, cherry bombs and M-80s. We even had the occasional penny rocket, but the good old standby was always the firecracker. When we could afford it we’d opt for Black Cats for the kick. But any firecracker would do in a pinch.
The roaming candle was a nice diversion, though. It was propped against a fence post or placed in a root beer bottle then lit. The shower of colorful sparks was pretty entertaining, but the aural report just didn’t have the kick of the firecracker. Then we discovered that a roaming candle, later corrected to Roman candle when we became literate, could be a hand held device capable of delivering a spray of colorful fireballs in any direction we wished, including toward each other. Roman candle wars soon became commonplace. Our heavy coats usually provided adequate armor against the flameballs, but singed eyebrows were not uncommon when a forearm braced for impact would scatter the sparks.
Of course, the bigger the better when it came to explosions, so when we got our hands on a cherry bomb or M-80 there was a tendency to destroy things or at least disfigure them for entertainment purposes.
Once, three M-80s found their way into our possession, and the hardest decision we faced was what to do. Sparky found a two-foot piece of crock pipe that was used to replace broken sewer lines from the farm houses. I can’t attest that this was an unused pipe, but it didn’t matter to us because it would make the perfect barrel for our cannon.
We propped the “cannon” against a fallen pine branch and aimed it toward the woods away from the barns. An M-80 went in the back end, and every pine cone, small branch and pine needles in the immediate area was stuffed down the barrel.
Sparky lit the fuse and we all took three or four steps back to watch our missile launch. The anticipation was excruciating.
What was even more excruciating was the fact that we did not even take into consideration that crock is not the most durable material from which to launch and volatile projectile.
The surprise when we saw the crock shatter to pieces and race past our heads is hard to describe. I remember pieces hitting my hands and scrape my cheek. This is one of the very many times when it could have been worse, but thanks to the extra heavy-duty guardian angels Granny prayed for us we escaped relatively unscathed again.
The Fourth of July was fireworks time again. For some strange reason one year we went through the holiday with firecrackers left over – Black Cats no less. But instead of popping them we had another great idea: let’s make a bomb! There were a few hundred un-popped firecrackers so we painstakingly pulled the fuse out of each one and blew the gunpowder into bowls.
We emptied a large kitchen matchbox and filled it with the gunpowder. There was so much powder left that we had enough for another matchbox! Oh, this was going to be exciting!
A long fuse was fashioned from three short fuses, and put one end in the box. Then we wrapped the boxes tight with freezer tape to hold everything together.
One Sunday afternoon it was decided that the time was right to detonate our ordinance, so we went to Sparky and John’s house to the concrete parking pad on the side of the house. Sparky careful placed the first matchbox in the center of the concrete, carefully lit the fuse and we all ran behind a tree, house or car to witness the destruction.
Instead of a BOOM more of a FOOM was heard as the powder fizzled and burned and generated a large cloud of smoke. Our disappointment was palatable. This was a sissy bomb, but why not have fun with what we got?
So we put the next matchbox on the pad, and all of us stood nearby to play in the smoke. John and I would pretend to be Dracula coming out of the fog of the mire. And we waited for the fuse to usher in the FOOM.
The compression shock hit us square in the chest. The noise was so deafening that it brought adults out of both houses to see what we blew up. Each of us were knocked to our butts on the concrete, and our hearing didn’t return until minutes later. The ringing remained even longer afterwards.
It appeared that when we filled the first box that we had to pack the remainder into the second box. That extra bit of compression made it an especially powerful bomb.
Now we were really sad that we had no more fireworks for another bomb because our minds raced to thinking what we could have destroyed with that firepower. Maybe next Christmas.
As we got older our handling of fireworks got more sophisticated. Well, maybe sophisticated isn’t the proper word. I propose that foolhardy would be more appropriate.
Bottle rockets weren’t for bottle anymore. Like tossing a lit firecracker throwing an ignited bottle rocket proved to be a lot more fun. We even learned that we could aim them… somewhat. The trajectory of a bottle rocket is closely related to the flight of a bumblebee.
Another game we developed with bottle rockets if a version of Swamphog Routlette. We would break the stick off of a rocket, light it then toss it away from us. It was thrilling trying to determine which direction the projectile would go. Even if it went directly away from you there was a pretty good chance with its trajectory would change every millisecond that it would head directly toward you.
On the weekends Mike would visit from town, and we would hang out thinking about what kind of excitement we could muster which usually translated into what kind of trouble we could get into.
One of us produced a cache of bottle rockets, and the battle lines were drawn. We brought our arsenal to the rice drier where the terrain had enough complexity to add to the excitement. Mike climbed up to the catwalk and provided a tempting target for those of us earthbound.
Rocket after rocket aimed his way would go off course, and Mike’s complacency with our lack of direction grew. Until one missile appearing to go awry gathered its wits and flew straight into Mike’s hair where it exploded!
Our hoots and hollers were somewhat tempered until he yelled down “I’m ok. I’m ok.” Then we cut loose congratulating one another at our success.
When Mike descended the catwalk steps I told him he had a perfect opportunity to teach us a lesson, and instead of assuring us he was fine he should have hit the catwalk deck and lay perfectly still. We would have either been extremely concerned and raced to check on him or more likely run from the scene constructing alibis in flight.
Categories: What was I thinking?
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