Thursday, July 5, 2012

Independence Day Highs and Lows

Overall, we had a very happy fourth of July. We hope you did too. This morning we ran a few errands and hit the fireworks stand, where Boo picked out several likely looking explosives. We spent the afternoon playing and baking. Then in the early evening, we headed over to Grandpa's house for the weekly family barbecue. It just so happened that this fabulous holiday fell on our regular barbecue night, so my dad decided to go all out.
This is a half-scale replica of a civil war cannon, made by my grandfather

When I was a child, my grandfather and my father belonged to a club which had as one of its activities, regular themed camp outs called rendezvous. At a rendezvous, you camped with only clothing and equipment that would have been available to early Americans before a specified date. (which date I am uncertain of, precisely) With the notable exception of coolers with food and ice, and cans of beer. LOL I remember these events with great fondness. My cousin and I were probably around ages 4 and 6, and our grandma sewed us special dresses and bonnets to wear. We called them our Little House on the Prairie dresses. There were interesting characters, all manor of tents, fascinating clothes, and horses. I remember what a treat it was to walk to a neighboring tent where a friend of my grandparents sold two lemon drops for a penny. I remember my grandpa, Dad, and my uncle looking so handsome in their outfits. I remember the tomahawk throwing competitions, black powder rifle contests, and the highlight, cannon shooting competitions. I am told that Grandpa never lost a competition in which he entered the cannon pictured above, which he built himself. I remember the thrill of the cannon being shot. The excitement, the reverberation of the shot vibrating in my chest, the smell of the gunpowder, the waft of smoke. My grandfather suffered a massive heart attack when I was quite young. By the grace of God he survived, but he was forced to give up a number of activities he loved, including the rendezvous. That cannon hasn't been shot since 1986...until today!

When Dad announced last week that he had decided to shoot the cannon for the fourth, my cousins and I were instantly transformed into a bunch of eight year olds. I have been looking forward to this day ever since. But in the back of my mind there lingered a touch of apprehension about how Boo would react. I arrived at Dad's house a bit early to see if I could be of any help. He got up on a ladder and pulled down a large plastic back from the storage area in the top of his shop. He passed it down to me, and I peeked inside.

I looked in and there were Grandpa's rendezvous hats. It took me by such surprise. Dad hadn't told me he was getting them out. It was a great joy, but tinged with the pang of sadness. My grandpa left this world six years, one month, and one day ago. I miss him so very much. Looking in that bag, it was like he was with us again in a way. My heart jumped and I had to choke back tears. Happy tears, grateful for the wonderful memories he left me, with which to remember him. Soon the rest of the family arrived, and my cousins and I each chose a hat, and wore it the rest of the evening, in the spirit of the day.

When our dinner was done, we all headed out to gather around the cannon. We listened as Dad reviewed the safety rules and procedures. He called for the "powder monkey" and my youngest cousin did the honors. The steps were explained. First, a long stick with some material on the end (what looked like maybe wool? I didn't ask.) was dunked in a bucket of water and passed down into the cannon barrel for a "wet swab." Next, another stick with a sort of iron spiral on the end, known as the "screw" was stuck into the barrel, to pull out any particles that may have remained there from the previous shot. Then another wet swab. Wearing large fireproof protective gloves, the powder money holds the shot (a measured amount of gunpowder wrapped in a cone of aluminum foil of specific diameter) at the end of the barrel, and the rifleman pushes it to the back of the barrel with another stick-like instrument. (These all probably have technical terms of which I am unaware) Then, the firing thing (which I did know the name of earlier tonight, but have forgotten) is inserted into a tiny hole at the top of the barrel. When the firing thing is struck it creates the spark which ignites the gunpowder. Grandpa used to have a mechanism devised for doing so with the pull of a cord. That mechanism has gone missing in the long years since we last fired the cannon, so there was a bit of improvisation. Firing the cannon by hitting the top of it with an aluminum baseball bat might not be the most authentic, but it's a heck of a lot of fun! So we were all set to blow the first shot. I called Boo to me and covered his ears, and we let him do the countdown so that he knew exactly when to expect the noise and could feel in control of it. BOOM! Boo's eyes lit up, he smiled ear to ear and shouted "Do that AGAIN!" I was totally floored, and absolutely thrilled. He remained for the next five shots, holding his ears and providing a countdown for each. My dad, my uncle, and each of us cousins took our turns "at bat." It was exhilarating, and I know my grandpa would be so proud of us for putting his cannon to use once again. And for instilling the love of it to the next generation.
My aunt caught this amazing shot of my turn to fire! How cool is that?

After that, it was back to more traditional forms of Independence Day fun. My cousin introduced Boo to her favorite kind of firework, snakes! He really enjoyed them. He laughed and said they look like poop. Leave it to a five year old. LOL
The best part of snakes, apparently, is crushing them to bits with a stick when they are done.

At one point, Boo asked me how to spell Grandpa. Later I found this written in the sand. It doesn't show well in the picture, but it was awesome!

I also introduced Boo to colored smoke balls and poppers, both of which were a big hit. At dusk we broke out the sparklers. As soon as Boo's was lit he threw it on the ground and ran screaming. Once we showed him how to work them he loved them, but refused to hold them. But my cousins and I acted like the big kids we are at heart and had great fun with them. Then the barbecue broke up and we headed home to shoot off our own fireworks. Boo became even more excited as we drove into town and he saw all the bright sparks in the air all around. He kept talking about how much he loved fireworks and how pretty they are. We got home, got out our bags of explosives, filled our emergency water bucket, and waited for my cousins to arrive. But as the fireworks all around town began to reach a crescendo, so did Boo's anxiety. With every report, every squeal, every crackle, he grew more tense and fearful. Covering his ears was no help. We managed to get through only one of our fireworks before he was completely overwhelmed and ran crying into the house. I went in and set him on a chair in front of the large picture window, where he would have a view of our fireworks without the intensity of the noise. This lasted a little while, but eventually he lost it completely. I had to take a break and come in with him. He was running through the house shrieking, not able to find any place where the sound of the explosions outside was completely muffled. After a great effort, we got him settled in his bed, under his weighted blanket, with his leap pad game to drown out the other noises. He was still agitated, but he could tolerate it. I went outside with my cousins and we finished blowing stuff up, and then said good night.

It took me a while to quiet Boo enough for sleep. He was antsy and agitated, and every little noise was like poking him with a needle. Finally exhaustion took over and his eyelids fluttered closed. I lay beside him watching his precious face. I felt elated at all he had accomplished in the day. I mean, the kid watched a cannon being shot. A freaking CANNON. Multiple times. And loved it! That's HUGE in our world. But the key was that it was one shot at a time, he knew when it was coming, and he was given some control over it. When it came to the fireworks, the sounds and sensations were coming from everywhere at once. There was no reprieve, no time between explosions to reset himself, no way to know when or from where the next shot would come. And the joy of sharing this wonderful day with my son was also pierced with frustration. Not because I was frustrated at him  or by him. Rather, I was frustrated that something that is typically such a simple pleasure of childhood would, for him, have to be a source of pain and anxiety. And I wondered if next year would be a little better. In the end, though, I can't escape the fact that this day was a tremendous success. 

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like a lovely day and that picture of the cannon going off is amazing. When I was little, I read the Little House books and dreamed of being back on the farm with Laura. And then I went camping and soon realized I probably would have died...LOL

    I'm glad it was such a good day!