Nothing will ever happen again
I grew up on a donation land grant in SW Oregon with my parents and grandparents on my dad’s side, two miles off the county road. As an only child (the nearest kid my age was couple miles away, and we didn’t like each other), I learned to be creative when it came to keeping myself entertained (learned real quick that you never ever told anyone that you were bored, cause there was always a list of undesirable activities for them to assign to you to alleviate said boredom). It has been said that people of my grandparent’s generation, granddad was born in 1897, grandmother in 1900, often held the viewpoint that children were to be seen and not heard. In my opinion, to avoid the aforementioned list of undesirable activities, it was best to remain unseen as well.
One summer morning in the mid to late 70’s, after rereading all of my SGT Rock, Ghost Tank, and Nick Fury and His Howling Commando’s comic books, I was playing in the backyard with my army men (the little green non-articulated kind that came 25 -100 in plastic bags), when inspiration struck like a bomb cyclone over Disneyland. Playing with my army men at that time consisted of meticulously setting them up in an action-packed battle formation, and then using my makeshift “mortar” to blast em hither and yon. My “mortar” consisted of one of my dad’s old claw hammers, the kind with a foam rubber covered metal tube handle, firecrackers I had obtained somewhere, and gun powder. Hand loading ammunition was just a part of life in my family, same as cutting firewood, or tending to the livestock, and as such, I had ready access to gunpowder and a basic understanding of how it could send a bullet whizzing through the air to knock a sheep eating coyote into the arms of Jesus. So, armed with this knowledge and readily accessible resource, I deduced that if I put a small amount of gunpowder down the hollow handle of dad’s hammer (the foam rubber grip was worn off the end of the handle exposing the metal tube center), and then slid a lit firecracker sparking fuse end down the tube, the sparks would ignite the gunpowder and result in a very satisfying “poomph” as the firecracker was launched on to the battlefield where it would go off and “blast those dirty rotten no good kraut eating Nazis to kingdom come”. I understand that today the idea of a child, less than a decade, old playing “army men” with gun powder and explosives, would have the CSD phone ringing off the hook. Back then however my grandparents, who had raised seven children through the great depression and a world war, seemed to be of a mind that most kids were smart enough not to get themselves killed or maimed if you first explained the dangers to them. Any child that did wind up getting themselves either maimed or dead, served as a lesson for the rest of them. So, as I was happily defending the forces of patriotic plastic freedom from their dastardly plastic foes, it occurred to me that if gun powder could be used to make a ”mortar”, I bet I could also use it to make a hand grenade as well. So with young boy logic I thought to myself “Hmm, hand grenade…that’d be cool!” I understood that the same rapidly expanding gasses that pushed a bullet out the barrel of a gun with enough energy to knock livestock eating varmints into the hereafter, would result in an explosion if they were sufficiently constrained. I finally settled on a design that involved an artificial lemon juice container (the squeezy plastic kind shaped like a lemon”, a teaspoon full of gunpowder, and a firecracker with the fuse poking through the squirter and cap of the juice container. Having constructed my masterpiece, I hurriedly ran out to the big gravel parking/turnaround area outside the front yard to test my creation. My test site was chosen on the basis that it would be safer since “rocks don’t burn”. Lighting the fuse and issuing a very heroic sounding “grenade!” I chucked the sparking lemon into the middle of the gravel patch and hid behind a pickup truck. When there was no immediate KA-BOOM or even an anemic “pop”, I peeked around the corner of the pickup just in time to see my creation transform from a “cool hand grenade” into a terrifyingly unguided rocket of doom. Terrifying because even though as a young boy I would normally rate rockets as even cooler than grenades, this one had launched itself ten or twenty feet into the air and was careening towards the hay field. “HOLY BLEEP BLEEP BLEEP! I shouted using all the words granddad had taught me for just such an occasion, and with an adrenaline-fueled burst of speed that would have made Usain Bolt envious, I launched from behind the pickup in hot pursuit of the corkscrewing lemon of doom. Despite my best efforts, flames were already starting to spread outward from the lemon’s landing site at the edge of the hayfield. Wasting no time and with the pure enthusiasm only sheer terror can produce, I began stomping out flames like a rain dancer trying to end a 12-year drought. Thankfully the Lord seems to take mercy on foolish children, and I was able to stomp out all the flames before they had burned an area much bigger than the hood of a car. Knowing that you didn’t get credit for stopping a catastrophe if you were the one who started the catastrophe, I spent the next few hours marinating in cold sweat as I waited for my dad to come home from work. Several short eons later, he came rumbling up the road in his old truck. Getting out of the truck, he stopped and surveyed the burnt patch of grass and then turned to me and asked “so, what happened today?” “Ummm…nothing” I stammered nonchalantly . “Hmm, nothing?” he asked. “Nope, nothing” I replied. Still gazing at the burn patch he asked “so, you think nothing will ever happen again?” “No sir, I can absolutely promise you that nothing will ever happen again” I replied emphatically. “Well alright then, see that it doesn’t” he said and went on into the house. There are no words for the feelings of amazement and disbelieving relief I felt as I went to sit down quietly under the big maple tree in the yard. My dog Bing came up and sat down next to me. As I thoughtfully scratched behind his ears, I told him “Bing, I think playing army men is a lot more fun when your own butts not on the line.