May 14, 2008

Earl, Lester, and Moon

The most magical time of the year when I was a child was, of course, Christmas. We always got our Santa gifts on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas morning, which was fine with us. Every year we would load up the car and head to my Grandparents house. They didn’t live too far away, just North of town, some ten or so miles. They lived in a small house that my Grandfather built himself. Looking back on it all now, I don’t imagine that most people would stick around for the entire evening these days. In these current times of keeping up with the way TLC shows you how you should live and the food network shows you how you should eat, most folks would run screaming into the night when faced with a small “mill village” type of home, packed to bursting with all manner of people. It was hot, crowded, and extremely loud. There were constant yells of, “Close that door!” as kids would run in and out slamming the screen door and leaving the other door open to the cold night air. Delicious smells of food, lights of all kinds, and seemingly unending laughter were the order of the day. My wife, being from Chicago, was subject to severe culture shock when she attended a couple of Christmas Eves there. This was years after my Grandfather had passed away and the crowds were much smaller and quieter than they were in the days of my childhood. If only she could have experienced just one of the Christmas Eves I remember as a child…
One of the main things that I looked forward to on that night was the fireworks. I don’t mean a professional display put on down at the park so you could sit on a blanket and sip wine as your spotlessly clean children ran around and played while wearing the latest fashions from the current store of note that you are told to buy from by the TV and the “in touch” people at work or at Church. I mean fireworks. Down and dirty. The fireworks that you made the run down I-20 just over the Georgia – Alabama line to buy at the first building where Earl, Lester, and Moon worked. I swear, I went there once and those really were the names of the three guys that worked there. I didn’t go to the big yellow building on the hill, but the first one you came to. It was a little shack with a wood burning stove in the middle of it, with an open door and sparks popping out of it…
This was in the day that you could get real m-80s, those things could blow anything apart. If you have never heard the report of a real m-80, imagine the sound of a 12-gauge high brass shotgun blast. If you have never heard either sound, well, you just ain’t livin’ right… My older brothers and cousins once drove a five foot metal pipe into the ground a couple of feet, dropped lit m-80s in and proceeded to launch and destroy all manners of objects twenty to thirty feet in the air. They put an enamel or porcelain covered kettle on that pipe, when the m-80 went off that kettle sailed a good thirty to forty feet up & came down, it had blown every bit of the coating off of the thing, it was awesome. M-80s were quite possibly the perfect toy for the early teen boy, whether actual or at heart, just destructive enough to take a couple of fingers off but not kill you outright. I defy you to find anything that cool in these days of rampant political correctness.
Huge bricks of firecrackers, bottle rockets, and roman candles were what you had. This was when an adult would give you a lit cigarette to light the stuff with and nobody thought that was a bad thing. Somebody always goofed up, usually with the aid of a mischievous individual, and had something go off in their hand. My cousin once slipped up behind my younger brother while he was lighting a firecracker and yelled, “BOOM!” My brother, of course, tossed the cigarette he was using and held onto the firecracker… When this happened you went inside and got a wet washcloth given to you to hold onto the injury until the throbbing and tears stopped, then you rejoined the fray. Roman candles and bottle rockets were used as long distant weapons and firecrackers were for close quarter combat. My favorite move was to rip the stick off of a bottle rocket and toss it into a crowd of people; you just didn’t know where that thing was going to go… Then there was the return trip that you had to make back to the Grandparents house to rake up the mess that you had made in their yard. One year our cousin went with us. We collected every dud piece of explosive that we could find. Later that afternoon we went to his house, down in the basement. They had a room that once was a bathroom, but now served as his lab. We loved to watch Quincy & everybody had some form of chemistry lab at one time or another. We ripped every one of those duds apart and got the gunpowder out and put it all in a paper cup. The cup, one of the tall daisy wax covered jobs with the orange flower design, was about three-quarters of the way full of powder. We then packed it all down tight, bent the cover over it, taped it in place and added the fuse we had made of all the left over fuses tied together. We then, of course, lit it. Yep, right there, in the basement. Luckily for us it didn’t explode, but began to send up a blaze and the thick, foul smelling smoke only gunpowder can produce. Yes, we were afraid, the damn thing wouldn’t go out, we tried everything, but the smoke was getting thicker by the second. After it went out the footsteps banging down to the basement could be heard. It was his Dad. He is the kind of man that can bring a room of people to absolute quiet calm just by looking at them. The dressing down we got will stick with me the rest of my life. Hindsight being what it is, it was worth the trouble we got in.
I think about these things now and wonder what would happen if my kids were to do things like this. There just seemed to be less concern of well being back then, but we seemed to have much more fun. I mean damn, we would ride all the way to my Grandparents house while sitting on the tailgate of a pick up truck, dragging our feet on the paved road. Could you imagine the number of calls that would be made from cell phones to 911 if you were to try that now? You really never even see a pick up truck with the bed full of kids heading off to do something fun nowadays. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I will say it many more times in the future. I wish I could take my kids back in time for just one weekend, What a time they would have.


Jules said...

Oh the Christmas memories. while it took some adjustment, as I was used to my own families craziness, I miss those times.
While safety is always important I do worry that we have taken some of the "immunity" to life's problems out of our children with our desperate need to protect them.
We will work to find the balance and create memories, as closely as we can, to these for them.

Anonymous said...

Memories are a wonderful thing.
You can relive them over and over.
When you tell your boys of things you've done as a boy they are right there doing those things with you.
Now you are helping them to make new ones wether you and James are on a great adventure.Doing yard work or talking about a bok with Patrick.
I think family memories are the best.

Anonymous said...

Man, you bring back such good memories. I love reading your stuff.
This one reminded me of the bottle rocket wars we used to have. We'd use pipes as rocket launchers and shoot the bottle rockets out of them.