Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Giant Firecracker

Under a quickly fading clouded sky, Nick and I filed up a thin dirt path, winding through a field completely alight with fireflies. We decided on a whim, after an afternoon of fun snacks and great company, that we wanted to further celebrate our Independence Day by seeing the best fireworks display in the area. We figured there was no better spot to do such a thing than from the south terrace of the Biltmore Estate. From there it is possible to take in incredible mountain views for miles, with downtown Asheville in the foreground. We ascended to the house along a section of one of my favorite running trails and walked up the large stone steps separating the house from the Italian garden. From our perch on the huge stone terrace we saw colorful bursts of sparks beginning to fill the sky. Still, as we watched a magnificent show from the most beautiful spot I could imagine, I found myself wondering what we would be experiencing had Nick and I had decided to drive up to Rugby and take in the show my dad and our neighbor Andy had concocted. If only just to be sure they didn't blow themselves (or anything else) up in the process.

Nick waits for the fireworks to start at the Biltmore Estate
See, when my dad was a young boy growing up surrounded by mountains and farmland, guitars weren't his only area of interest. He would use his pocket knife to whittle his own toys and his imagination to improve on the occasional store bought toy. One particular instance was when he acquired a pack of fire crackers. You know the ones, they come in a big red pack all strung together and Kevin McAllister threw a bunch in a bucket to scare Marv away from his kitchen door.

My dad figured if he could see how those fire crackers were constructed he could make a large explosive device that would be bigger and better than the generic store bought ones. He carefully opened the red tissue and removed the powder from within several firecrackers. He then wrapped the powder together into one mass as large as a grown man's index finger. Unfortunately, after about twenty attempts, none of his homemade mini-bombs made more than a fizzling noise. He speculated that the wrapping was not as tight as the original packaging had been, and worked to improve his design. He stuck with his project late into the night. He and my uncle Max were the only people still awake in the house; Granny and my grandfather Walter had retired to their room upstairs hours earlier.

"That is never going to work." Max exclaimed. My dad persisted, unruffled. He wrapped the paper tighter than he had on the others and admired his handiwork. Max, expecting the same fizzle to occur, took the giant firecracker from my dad's hands and nonchalantly lit it with the butt of his cigarette.  He threw it into the coal bucket that sat next to the tall thin stove on which Granny used to heat water in a heavy cast iron kettle. I remember that stove and bucket well. I would marvel at the black chunks of coal stacked in it, just waiting to be fed into the mouth of the stove, its coiled handle dangling like a nose off the front.

BANG! The firecracker went off that time. "You never heard such a noise!" my dad told me. "Whats going on down there?" My grandfather drawled, still half asleep. My dad said he blamed it on Max, answering, "Oh nothing. Max lit my firecracker and threw it in the floor." I asked what the consequences had been for such antics and my dad told me that they didn't even come downstairs. "I guess they were used to my shenanigans, I was always doing crazy things like that." (Remember when I wrote about the time he sat in the rafters of the barn to ensnare chickens as they strutted by or when he hid a metal sign under a thin layer of snow and watched the dogs (and my Granny) slip on it?)

I am glad the fireworks display Wayne and Andy put on last night in downtown Rugby turned out to be simply a good show; nothing that would require my grandfather to get out of bed for. The horses next door, however, might have decided to leave town. I hope you all had a safe and happy 4th of July full of family, friends, good food, and safe fireworks.

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