My dad went to college in Columbia, South Carolina. A Brooklyn boy in the middle of the Deep South, now there’s a sight that many people would probably have liked to have seen. He seemed to fit in pretty well, and I think people finally forgave him for continually stringing them along into thinking that he was actually in a gang up in Brooklyn.
While singing in the choir in college, he would travel around and sing at churches here and there throughout South Carolina. On his travels to Lancaster, South Carolina, he met a couple who he adopted (and who adopted him). The relationship that he built with them lasted for the rest of his life. In fact, growing up, we would often vacation down there with them and we affectionately called them “Grandma” and “Grandpa.”
My “grandfather” was an avid fisherman. He loved to fish and so, that was among the major activities that we would take part in while spending our weeks down there during the summertime. While I have lots of memories of that, one of the most memorable things happened to me not while I was fishing. As New England boys, for my brother and me, we couldn’t wait to get our hands on some fireworks. My parents reluctantly consented…..until one day.
We all probably know or have an inkling of how young boys can be, they never want anyone to think that they don’t know what they’re doing, especially when it comes to something dangerous which they’ve never handled before, like fireworks. Well, that was certainly the case with my brother and me. Since my brother is older than me, it seemed almost natural for him to get the first crack at the fireworks. If my parents had known then what they found out later in life, I wonder if they would have thought things through better and let them play out much differently.
We didn’t go crazy with anything really fancy when we went to buy the fireworks. We had heard the stories before and we didn’t want to end up as statistics. So, we settled on some simple fireworks, you know, light the wick, let it burn, toss them quickly, and hear the big BANG!
To say that my brother was a little reckless might be the understatement of the century. I’m really not sure what was going through his head that day. Whatever it was, his head was on lighting the firecracker and throwing it…..or just getting rid of it, which is where our problem began.
Now, my parents were no dummies, safety was always an issue for them. I think that they had both experienced enough as children to make them reconsider safety at every turn. “Stand back” was certainly one of the phrases that they repeatedly uttered as the fireworks flew all around us. And sure enough, that’s what I did, I stood back. I didn’t want to lose an eye, a finger, an ear, or anything else for that matter. Well, turns out, my fear of loss was too high….literally. In other words, I needed to be thinking lower.
It was probably just a split second, but if you’ve ever been in a situation like this, you know how a second can seem like a thousand years. It plays out in your mind as if it’s going in slow motion, but no matter how slow it might seem to be going, you just can’t get it to change. One moment, my brother was holding the firecracker, the next moment, it was flying through the air straight towards me.
The feeling of shock and disbelief had so overwhelmed me that I froze. What on earth had my brother been thinking? Why would he throw a firecracker straight towards me? Whatever motivated him (other than brotherly rivalry), I was doomed. Before I knew it, I felt a sting on my leg.
I can almost see the look on my mom’s face at that moment. I was her baby, so she was always fairly protective of me. She ran to me to check me over. I can’t remember whether or not I was crying, I imagine that I was. An exploding firecracker on the leg is not the most enjoyable of feelings.
Once the dust settled and my parents finished yelling at my brother, everyone examined me more. I was wearing a new pair of shorts that we had gotten while on vacation. As we looked down at them, we noticed a hole on the front left side on the inner part of the shorts. I’m not sure who finally said it, I imagine it was my grandfather since he had a quick wit about him, but someone said, “Wow! A few inches and you’d have had some serious problems.” Yup, a few more inches and I would have been a goner.
Well, I was able to have three children with my wife, so the impact of that little firecracker was not as far-reaching as it could have been. I guess the only thing that really stuck was a rivalry between my brother and I as well as a love for fire and blowing things up. I imagine that’s nothing new for any boy, but I get the strange sense that my daughter may have it worse than her older brothers. I guess when I stop and look at them today, I can be thankful for a few measly inches…..if not for them, my kids probably wouldn’t be here today.