As a youngster up in the Panhandle, I was always been a sucker for holidays, especially the Fourth of July and Christmas. And to be honest, the fact that firecrackers, torpedoes, rockets, and other pyrotechnic devices were part of each was one of the reasons.
Then, as today, families gathered for the Fourth. Now, that was well before the barbecue craze, and usually after a dinner of fried chicken and all the side dishes topped off with icy sweet tea, the men, along with their various libations, set about churning up a batch of homemade ice cream while we kids ran amuck with our explosives.
It’s a wonder some of us didn’t have something blown off or put out or burned up because the only thing we had on our warped little minds was fireworks, certainly not safety.
One Christmas on my maternal grandparents farm, Ed, one of my younger cousins, and I got tired of being knocked around by our Cousin Dooley, who was five or six years older. It was small things like pushing us into the hog pen or throwing one of us in the cow tank or hurling cow patties at us.
He was too big and strong for us, but we had a supply of Roman candles. We caught him in one of the barn stalls so he couldn’t run and peppered him good with Roman candles. Even burned a couple holes in his clothes.
That wasn’t all we burned. Luckily we saw the smoking hay in the stalls before it got out of hand. We never did tell anyone about that part of our adventure.
Naturally, when he caught up with us later, he gave us a good pummeling.
Now I never did burn anything down. Set a few grass fires and on occasion caused my grandmother’s hens to stop laying. One of my friends wasn’t so lucky. And, but for the mixed blessing of a case of measles, I would have been right in the thick of it.
There were a handful of us boys who sort of, kind of, hung together. If one had something in mind such as a camping trip or swimming trip to the creek, he’d get in touch with the others.
Anyway, we had planned our Fourth of July battle for a couple weeks, a replay of the shelling of Fort McHenry in 1812. What brought that scenario all about was that Donald had read about Francis Scott Key writing the Star Spangled Banner while watching the battle at night.
Now, Donald’s dad had just moved a chicken house onto the back of his property. As I remember, he’d bought it from another farmer and hauled it in. That was our Fort McHenry, and since the idea was Donald’s, and the fort his father’s, he insisted on being Francis Scott Key.
That meant only two more of us could be Americans. The other three were British. No one wanted to be British, so we had to draw straws. Naturally with my luck, I was a Briton.
Two days before the Fourth, Mom decided I had measles. I wailed and pitched a fit, but to no avail.
Two days after the Fourth, I was grateful for the illness with which the good Lord had blessed me. That was the day I learned during the epic Battle of the Chicken Coop—I mean, Fort McHenry, the fort, flag and all, under the deadly barrage of Roman candles, had been reduced to ashes. The nearby barn had been hit; it lost only one stall; both armies had been punished severely.
A week later after Jerry’s dad let him leave the house, he stopped by and told me of the battle.
It had waged back and forth for hours (minutes really). Francis Scott Key was firmly entrenched in the chicken coop writing the Star Spangled Banner with firecrackers and rockets and Roman candles exploding all around. One firecracker burned the paper in his hand, and he had to start over.
Now, rockets are notorious for going everywhere except where they are pointed, and it was one of those rockets that did a ninety-degree curve and hit the barn.
All in all, he whispered with sneaky grin, it was a great fight. Sorry you missed it.
I was too.
After Jerry left, Mom came in and said what the boys had done was a terrible and foolish thing. Thoughtless! Childish! She looked at me and cocked her head to one side. “Did you know they were going to do that?”
Wide-eyed and innocent, I shook my head. “No, Ma’am. I would have told you if I had.”
I groaned after she left. What a great battle, and I had missed it all.