Almost a Fatality on the Fourth
I think I was about twelve years old, back in my Windsor years, and back when local and state governments were seriously considering banning the sale and use of fireworks. So I decided, thinking of course about my future kids and grandkids, to use all of my lawn mowing money to buy enough fireworks to last for several generations. This I accomplished, but then came the challenge of trying to find a place where I could blow up a year's worth of fireworks without getting arrested.
On the Fourth there was going to be a big community celebration at Farrington Park with a big fireworks display at the end, and not being a real sharp boy, I felt sure they would let me shoot my fireworks as part of the finale. Mom and Dad were going to the park, but I begged and pleaded, "Please let me go on my own, not with you guys. Please, please don't make me go with my parents. I'll walk down to the park by myself." (This way I could carry a big sack of fireworks.) Mom said no at first but eventually she caved with one strict condition. After the fireworks display, I must meet them at the main shelter house and ride home with them. I said okay, and Mom repeated her instructions. "As soon as the fireworks display ends, you meet us at the main shelter house." "Okay, Mom, I'll meet you right after the fireworks."
Well, to spare you some of the detail, I was really mad and disappointed later on when the guys at the park told me that I absolutely could not light up so much as a sparkler in that crowded park. "Get lost, kid. Gotta go out of town if you want to shoot those off." While I was stomping back around the lake who should I spot but my big brother, John, who was just leaving with some of his friends to go shoot their own fireworks over at the golf course. He didn't know anything about the bargain I had struck with Mom. "Let me go, too, John. Look at all this stuff I got." He took one look in my sack and said, "C'mon!"
It was nearly midnight when I walked in the front door of our house. My parents had looked everywhere for me as had several other friends and neighbors and yes, even the local police had been searching for me. Mom was worried sick with all these terrible scenarios playing in her mind. When I came through the front door, Mom was in her bedroom and she had been crying.
Now, there was an unwritten rule in our house among the eight of us siblings. Our dad could be counted upon to be pretty calm and fair when disciplining his children, with one noted exception. Never, never, never do anything that pushes Mom to tears. Something about the sight of Mom weeping had a transforming affect upon our father. To sum it up, "Make Mom cry, you will die."
John had dropped me off at the house first so that he could take his girlfriend home without his kid brother tagging along. When I came through the door I was feeling fine. I had had tons of fun, blown up everything I had, and it had never even entered my poorly wired mind that I was supposed to meet my parents or that I might be in some kind of trouble.
Dad had another unique quality when thoroughly enraged. He didn't get loud or shout or scream. In fact, his voice would get lower and slower, kind of like Clint Eastwood just before he fires his 44 magnum. He met me at the door and said simply and softly, "Do you know what time it is?" (He probably wanted to add, "Well, do ya, punk?") Later I figured out why he asked that question since I'm pretty sure he already knew what time it was. There was a clock to my right as I came in the door and when he asked, I turned my head to the right giving him a much better angle for the kill shot.
I never saw it coming, but Dad hit me on the side of my face with his open hand and immediately I found myself back out on the front porch. I was stunned and bewildered, not yet able to figure out why he was so upset. I heard my sister-in-law say, "Dad!" She had never seen her father-in-law like this before. Dad turned and said, "You get on downstairs, right now." Oh great, I thought, no witnesses. I opened the broken storm door and started back in the house. Dad hadn't moved or come up with a new question. "Do you know what time it is?" This time I saw it coming, but the result was exactly the same, back out on the porch. As I bent over holding my ringing ears in my hands, all of a sudden my faulty memory reconnected, I remembered all about the park, I knew now why Dad was so angry, and I realized that I was probably going to see Jesus real soon.
When I stepped through the door the third time, I was relieved to see that the artillery has ceased firing and a more detailed interrogation began. Never had the words, "I'm sorry, I forgot," sounded so pitiful and inadequate. I apologized to my mother, who chose to hug me rather than wring my neck, and I headed down the basement stairs. Some of my siblings were looking up the stairs wondering if I was still alive. Jerry seemed disappointed.
I had a big red hand print on my face when I went to bed late that night, my ears still ringing. I know it all sounds pretty brutal by today's standards. Near as I can recall, that was the last time my dad ever laid his hand on me for discipline's sake. Funny thing, my memory problem must have somehow been corrected that night, because I never forgot my dad's instructions after that, and I sure never did anything to make my mother cry again. No thank you. Bad idea.
So, a safe and happy Independence Day to all my family and friends. I'll see you at the main shelter house, right after the fireworks. I'll be there, Mom.