Friday, December 31, 2010

Probably last of the blow stuff up stories I will tell.

I think I'll keep the rest to myself.

Looking back on things, I figure my dad had a pretty punk childhood because of a lot of things, mainly the Great Depression.

I also think that he was hell bent on making sure we were taken care of and were permitted to enjoy our childhoods. I also think he enjoyed watching us enjoy our childhoods and maybe in a way by watching us have so much fun, he got to make up for his lousy childhood.

Dad knew boys well. He enjoyed watching kids make their mistakes and learn their lesson on the way to manhood. He was also a natural born teacher.

One day my mother went into a panic as she saw her two sons headed off toward the woods. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that I was carrying a heavy Jerry can, as was my kid brother.

My mother called my dad, who cheerfully said to her, “Anything to keep those two off the streets and out of the pool halls.”

When I heard that, I figured we were home free. I kept walking.

“Hey, wait up,” Dad said.


“What are you two up to?  Now fess up.” He demanded.

Page 14, Article 2 Amendment 8 subsection D paragraph 17c of the 1958 Official Manual of Being a Kid, revised 1964, says specifically “When asked what you are doing by your parents the appropriate response is “Nothing.”.

I went by the book for that one. “Nothing,” I said.

“Good,” said Dad. “Let’s do nothing together.”

And with that, he took the Jerry can from my kid brother and we headed down into the woods.

A can fell out from where it was hidden under my shirt. It said on it ‘DuPont FFFg Black rifle powder’.

Dad simply told my brother pick it up and carry it.

When we entered the woods down at the wood line the Old Man asked what the plan was. I told him that we were planning on sending a fireball up and he nodded.

“The well house?” he asked. I nodded.

“Electric ignition?”

“Yes,” I replied. “Just like we learned from you.”

Dad was a pretty good soldier and a good soldier knows when to fall back and regroup. He had done so some time back when my brother and I started blowing things up. He realized that simply forbidding something would drive it underground and make it even more dangerous than it was.

Or he could simply teach us how to do something in a safe manner. A year or more earlier we had survived a close call with something and Dad’s sharp eye had noticed an awful amount of singed hair on me. He immediately hauled me into the basement and got a confession out of me.

He asked me if I had learned my lesson, and I told him the answer was to use a longer fuse. He paled and the following Saturday it was off to the surplus store for yet another roll of commo wire. He also pulled a car battery out of the trunk, and a cheap charger to boot.

Dad told us that from then on anything bigger than a cherry bomb was to be set off electrically and from a safe distance. Our days of lighting homemade fuses and running like hell were pretty much over.

It didn’t take long for my brother and me to set things up in the old well house. While we did set things up, Dad commented that it was a good thing the well house was there.

The well house was built about 1925 as a water supply system to the house, yet it was pretty much abandoned long before we had moved there in ’54. It was a solid poured concrete structure, maybe 15 feet square. The concrete walls were almost a foot thick.

It had a well built hip roof that no longed existed, seeing that age had somewhat weakened them before my brother and I blew it off of there a year earlier. Don’t ask.

We went to a nearby partially filled up old well some distance from the well house and pulled out a pail containing a pair of long sleeved shirts that were soaking wet and donned them. My brother looked at my dad and explained, “Flash burns,” he said. Dad nodded approvingly. At that point I’m sure he felt a little proud that his lessons had been absorbed and built upon. We both also donned goggles.

I installed the niachrome igniter into a cup of black powder so as to insure a healthy ignition and the pair of us started pouring gasoline all over the concrete floor.

Dad noticed a hose of some sort leading into the house and asked what it was. “You’ll see,” I replied, and watched Dad look a little more worried.

My brother bolted.

“Where’s he going?” Dad asked.

“Neighbor check. He just wants to make sure Mister Wonderful isn’t home yet,” I replied.

Mister Wonderful was our next door neighbor and must have been related to Karpinski, another area chronic cop caller. Things in the neighborhood were coming to a real head and it was just a matter of time before Mister Wonderful went off his rocker and started big trouble for the neighborhood. More on him in a future post.

When I told Dad that my brother was making sure the neighbor’s Valiant wasn’t in the driveway, dad looked very pleased.

I continued spreading the gas around and when my brother returned and announced the coast was clear, I propped a piece of plywood against the hole where the door used to be and looked at dad and told him that it would hold the vapors inside and not let them dissipate.

While my brother and dad led the way to the well, I lagged behind, tipped over a board, reached down and turned a valve. It went unnoticed until we were getting ready to set the thing off. My dad then noticed the green bottle.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“An oxygen bottle.” I replied. “It wasn’t too full, but it sure won’t hurt.”

Dad’s eyes grew about as big as saucers and my brother looked at me for his cue to flip the switch.

“Wait,” I said. “Steady…Not now; I still hear oxygen…OK….NOW!”

There a click from the switch in the well we were ducked down in followed by a loud Va-WHOMP in the well house and immediately a ball of fire shot about a quarter mile straight up into the air!

The look on my fathers face at the second he witnessed that fireball shoot up was something out of a history book. Prior to then, the look was last seen on the on the face of the Mayor of Hiroshima on the morning of August 6, 1945.

A voice from the porch of the house cried out, “Oh, my God! What was that?”

My father quickly recovered and remembered the appropriate section of the Official Manual for Being a Kid, 1964 revised edition.

“Nothing,” he shouted up to the house.

The ensuing silence made it crystal clear that Ricky had a lot of ‘splaining to do to Lucy that night.

He looked at my brother and me. “Don’t do a damned thing until I get back,” he ordered.

He made a beeline for the house, went in for less than a minute, got into the car and was gone for two hours. Where he went, we never asked.

Many years later I asked my mom about where he had gone. She laughed herself silly for quite a while.

“He came straight inside, told me not to say a single word, poured about four ounces of Seagram’s down his throat, got into the car and went straight to St. John’s, put ten dollars in the offertory and made a Novena!”


In school in a private conversation with the chemistry teacher some time later I learned how lucky we were. He told me that the mixture had probably grown so unstable that even a shot of static electricity in the air could have set it off prematurely, and that we were lucky that it hadn’t caused an out and out explosion that would have leveled the entire well house foundation.

Three years ago, I was in the old neighborhood and I approached the people living in the house now and asked if I could take a look at the well house. They also graciously gave me a tour of the old homestead and it looks wonderful.

The well house, at the time mentioned in the story was fire blackened and cracked in several places. While, of course, the cracks are still there, time has bleached it out and the walls are now white. Surprisingly, there is still a piece of WW2 era commo wire between two trees after all these years.

While in the house, I asked to see if my secret hiding place was still there. Surprisingly, it was. There were two home made firecrackers in it along with some other odds and ends, including a Playboy centerfold of De De Lind.

The homeowner’s eyes grew wide and they profusely thanked me for ridding their home of my childhood stash.

I gave one of the firecrackers to friend of mine from the old days. He is now a well respected businessman in town.

I am expecting some day to hear that he cranked it off in Mister Wonderful’s front yard at 3 am.

As for the remaining firecracker that I kept for myself, it came home and sat on my work bench until the evening of the Fourth of July.

Old habits die hard and the sound of firecrackers off in the distance was beginning to give me a case of old firedog syndrome. I decided to crank it off as somewhat a retirement ceremony from the old days.

I was reluctant to light the fuse and throw it because I had no clue as to the stability of the old powder and I really want to keep all of my fingers, several of which actually work these days. I opted to use a cigarette running through a book of matches as a safe timer.

Once it was set, I poured myself a drink and waited.

I was treated to a blinding flash and a loud blast that I felt as well as heard a very satisfying loud BOOM!

I sat there self-satisfied and looked smilingly at the three-foot smoking divot.

Five minutes later, I saw a roving police car drive by very slowly, and paid him little mind as I knew that one loud bang would be overlooked on the Fourth. Still, it reminded me that there was no shortage of cop-calling do-gooders left in the world.

I sat here a long while and sipped my drink and bawled my eyes out like a little kid. My childhood was over.

Or is it? Only time will tell.

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