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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Fourth of July, 1940s Style

Why is it that many of the most pleasant memories we have are those when we were young? Well, I could ruin the nostalgia of the moment and stay it’s because psychiatrists say our brains weed out the bad from the good, but I won’t.

Let’s just say we remember them because they were they way we want them to be.

And that’s how I remember the Fourth of July in the little town of Wheeler up in the Texas Panhandle.

The small town was home to eight hundred and forty-eight people, counting sixteen Indians camped just inside the city limits on a small creek north of town.

The only reason I know the last little tidbit is because Dad did the census.

The Fourths most vivid for me were around the mid-forties. I was ten and going into the fifth grade.

For a month ahead of time, along with my best friends, Donald and Jerry, I hoarded every penny I could scrape up for fireworks. To us boys, the Fourth was fireworks. Black Cats, torpedoes, baby giants, and rockets. The spray type fireworks were too tame for us.

We wanted noise and excitement, which we achieved by seeing who could explode a can highest into the air. We mangled every can on the premises, and some we shouldn’t. But, the truth is a ten-year-old boy with firecracker in hand can come up with some far-out ideas.

We even tried tying a string of Black Cats to the tail of a kite, but could never manage to get it airborne before the string blew itself out.

And then we’d play ‘naval war’ by tying a rock to a box of Rit Dye, stick a baby giant in the box, light it, and toss the whole conglomeration in the pond.

When it exploded underwater, the dye swirled to the top, just like oil from enemy submarines did in the Hollywood movies. That was great fun.

Black Cats would not work in the submarine trick. Their fuses were not waterproof like the baby giants.

Now all of this was usually going on around the periphery of the family or community get-together, a feast with every imaginable sort of goody from fried chicken to chocolate meringue pie. And Mama Conwell always included a couple of her bean pies.

I know, I know, ‘Bean Pie!’ Ugh.

Well, you can say ugh all you want. Just let me have your portion. They taste
somewhere between sweet potato and pumpkin pie. Absolutely delicious.

One of the most spectacular fireworks events I ever witnessed was the Great Watermelon Explosion. At the moment of the event, I regretted not thinking of it, but when I witnessed the retribution given to one of my chums, Donald, I thanked my lucky stars I had no part in it.

There were about sixty or seventy folks down at the park, which consisted of a meandering creek, thirty or forty giant cottonwoods, two croquet courts, and about a half acre of freshly mown grass.

Folks were sitting in clusters; kids were running around and laughing; some of us boys were chasing each other with torpedoes; everyone was having a good time.

I had stopped for a glass of iced tea when I spotted Donald with his family gathered around a could split watermelons. Without warning, one melon exploded, sending red chucks of melon flying in every direction.

Curses broke through the startled exclamations. Donald took off running. His older brother took off after him.

Now, Donald was small but fast. Unfortunately, his brother was bigger and faster. He caught Donald at the creek, and to everyone’s encouragement, grabbed him by the shirt and seat of his pants and tossed him into a deep pool, after which he jumped
in and held Donald under water, not once, but half-a-dozen times.

Old Donald came up coughing and gagging, but his ordeal was far from over. His brother dragged him back to the destroyed watermelon and made him pick up the pieces and eat them.

He ate most of it, then threw up. He threw up a second time when his brother told him if he threw up anymore, he was going to eat that. Somehow Donald kept it all down.

Now those are memories.

They just don’t make Fourth of Julys like that anymore.

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