Brilliant flecks of red, pink, and yellow confetti dotted the summer-blue sky, then slowly floated down to the ground. Otis jumped up and down, clapping and hooting with excitement. His plan worked! He looked around quickly to see if anyone had seen or heard his shenanigans. The only sound came from the grasshoppers hidden amongst the meadowy patch surrounding his grandparents’ massive garden area. He squinted and shielded his eyes from the sun using his hand. No sign of Grandma Helen running out of the house, or siblings and cousins coming out from wherever they were on the farm. His parents and aunts and uncles hadn’t arrived for the family’s annual 4th of July picnic, and Grandpa Ed had gone to town to get something for grandma at the store. The realization that he wasn’t getting into trouble for his merrymaking brought on severe giggles to the point he had to lay down to catch his breath.
After calming down, he sat up and wiped the glee-filled tears from his face. Emboldened by the lack of anyone noticing what he was doing, he stood and commenced with his celebrations. He galloped over to the massive row of rose bushes again. There were dozens of them lining the edge of the garden area. On the other side of the roses, Grandpa Ed’s unripened wheat swayed in the light summer breeze. Otis was about 200 yards away from his grandparents’ house. The immense distance offered a barrier of sorts, helping to dampen the sound of his jocularity. He wasn’t worried so much about the sound getting him into trouble, but the demolition of the roses.
His concern was so slight, however, that he plowed on, reaching inside his jeans pocket and pulling out four firecrackers encased in red, white, and blue paper. It didn’t get much more patriotic than this to Otis. Every year when his birthday hit at the end of June, he saved part of the money he received from his grandparents to make his special purchase on the 4th of July. This year he had extra funds due to collecting aluminum soda cans and the descent price of recycling them at the local plant. He’d taken his stash and gone with his brothers and cousins to the Reservation just north of their house. Each had carefully planned out their purchases to achieve maximum fun, literally getting the biggest bang out of their buck.
Now Otis was old enough—at the age of eight—to buy firecrackers and bottle rockets of his own, rather than having his older brothers begrudgingly share with him. He’d purchased three large packs of fire crackers, a pack of sparklers, and box of black worms, which would irritate Grandma Helen because they left dark stains on the cement. He’d donated several dollars to his older brother, Deanie, to buy Roman candles and some other fly-into-the-air explosive thrillers that they would set off as a family that night. His contribution also gained him access to the “secret purchase” of several Cherry Bombs and a front row seat to their ignition at some point during the holiday.
Refocusing back to the roses, he knew deep down what he was doing was probably wrong or at the very least disrespectful. But it wasn’t hurting anyone or ruining his grandma’s prized roses by the house, so he continued. He carefully maneuvered the tiny explosives into four rose blooms, flicked his Bic lighter—a birthday gift from his brother, Deanie—and set the fuses off quickly. They made the familiar hiss and spark, signaling Otis to get the hell out of the way. He jumped back and within a second the four fire crackers torched off, reverberating loud snaps into the air and launching bits and pieces of rose petals. The debris colored the air once again, and then floated down on top of Otis’s head. He laughed and giggled, proud of his creative use of the teeny-tiny incendiaries.
Suddenly, someone yelled out his name, and he froze. Was he caught? What trouble would he get into? He slowly turned around and peered in the direction of the shout. He caught sight of one of his cousins, LeRoy, waving at him from behind the barn.
“Ohhh, Oooooo-tis!” LeRoy hollered. “C’mere!”
Otis scampered toward the barn, knowing in his heart bigger adventures with the older boys awaited him. As he rounded the corner of the big red barn, his brothers, Otho, Cletis, Deanie, and Chuck, along with his male cousins, Buster, Lane, James, and LeRoy, were huddled around one of Grandma Helen’s prized galvanized steel washtubs. Otis knew they were up to no good, and he was all in for whatever it was.
Grandma Helen’s washtubs were among her most coveted possessions. She owned several tubs of various sizes and kept them in tip-top condition even though she used them for everything from laundry, to washing Gus the Dog. She would not be pleased if she knew the boys held one of her tubs captive for God only knows what.
Otis wiggled in between Otho and Buster to get a better gage on just exactly what type of extravaganza they were planning.
“I think we better use two,” Lane offered. “You know, to get the best lift.”
“Yeah, but do you want to waste two, when one will probably do it?” Chuck speculated back.
“We have seven total,” Otho pointed out. “Using two still leaves us with five.”
Otis assessed the situation. Sure enough, their seven beautiful bulbs of explosive nature, a.k.a. Cherry Bombs, sat nestled in sawdust in a wooden box, along with two lighters, several Roman candles, three large packs of fire crackers, and half a package of Oreos. Otis quickly dove into the Oreos, looked up at the older boys, and waited for one of them to scold him about grabbing cookies that weren’t his. No one said a word. They were too involved with their Cherry Bomb project. He took three more.
“I think we better do it before Grandpa gets home,” Cletis remarked. “I don’t know how he feels about us using Grandma’s tub.”
“Seriously?” James laughed. “Grandpa Ed is the king of blowing stuff up. In fact, I bet if we wait, he’d help us.”
The boys looked around at each other and before they could discuss the merits of involving their grandpa, in roared Ed himself, his 1960 red Chevy Apache pickup kicking up a rolling cloud of dust. The boys heard the familiar grumble of the truck’s exhaust leak and ran around the barn to greet their grandpa.
“Hello, boys,” Ed smiled. “Just what were you doing behind the barn?”
“Uh, oh,” he chuckled. “That most definitely means mischief.”
Otis stepped toward his grandpa and stuttered, “Well, Grandpa Swan, we, uh, we were trying to figure out some stuff and thought maybe you could help.” He had no idea if his brothers and cousins would get mad at him for being the one to speak up, but Grandpa Ed would go behind the barn to inspect the situation regardless, so why not ask for help. That usually worked with adults.
The look of merriment that spread across Ed’s face told the boys all they needed to know. Several shouted out, “C’mon, Grandpa!” as they raced back to their project behind the barn and beyond the line of sight of the house and Grandma Helen.
Ed sauntered behind the crew and let out a hearty belly laugh as he viewed the washtub and Cherry Bombs. “Somehow, boys, I seem to know exactly what you’re plotting without you even telling me,” he chuckled. “Just exactly how much fire power do you have?”
The group of male Swans huddled around the tub and wooden box of treasures, all offering commentary about how to achieve their impish goal. After inspecting the munitions available, Ed chimed in, “I think you can accomplish your goal using one Cherry Bomb, however if you use two, the effect will probably be more memorable, although unpredictable.”
“Two it is!” shouted Deanie.
“Now kids,” Ed stated, “I’m not condoning you blow up one of your grandmother’s precious washtubs, but if we…I mean you, decide to go forth in your endeavor, I will help sooth the beast when she comes after you with a rolling pin.” He laughed, flashes of his childhood—and adult—escapades with fireworks running through his head. The kids needed some good clean fun; they’d worked hard haying and needed to be boys.
His thoughts were interrupted when Doris’s voice rang out. “What are you guys doing?” she blurted out as she came around the corner of the barn. She abruptly stopped when she spied the group and the fireworks.
The boys and Grandpa Ed stood frozen, waiting to see if she would turn and high-tail it back to the house to inform Grandma Helen of the washtub’s potential fate. When she squealed, “Can I help?” they all let out their breath. Doris immediately earned their trust.
“Sure!” LeRoy and James said in unison. The brothers and cousins patted Doris on the back as their words tumbled over each other in a garbled mess explaining their agenda. Doris laughed and nodded in agreement.
“Where should we do it?” Buster asked.
All the grandchildren looked to Ed. If he selected a location, that was all the permission they needed to proceed. “I ‘spose out by the rose bushes would be the best place,” Ed said. “It’s far enough away from the house to be safe.”
Otis’s heart sank. Out by the rose bushes. The devastation from his earlier fire cracker antics were littered all over the grass and garden, not to mention the holes left in the bushes. His mind frantically raced to detour the plan, and he yelled above the cousin commotion, “Maybe we should do it out in the road where there’s rocks so we don’t catch the grass on fire.”
A few of the boys started to agree, but Ed replied, “Oh, Otis, what happens if a car comes right in the middle of it all? No, I think out by the rose bushes is the safest spot.”
Otis’s brain again kicked into high gear, his fear of getting into trouble making him frantic to stop the group from seeing what he’d done. “Maybe we shouldn’t be doing this at all,” he offered in his most innocent, halo-above-his-head voice. “Maybe Grandma Helen will be so mad she’ll never forgive us for destroying her washtub.”
For once in Otis’s life, the older siblings and cousins stopped and actually heard what he said. And most of them agreed.
“Yeah, maybe we should use something else,” James said.
“I guess we know better,” Otho added.
“I don’t think any of us wants to upset her,” Cletis agreed.
Ed looked over the troop and started to laugh. Once he caught his breath, he groused, “Although I give you credit for trying to be angels, your grandmother has dozens of washtubs. One casualty for the purpose of entertainment on the 4th of July won’t leave her hurting for a tub.”
“Wahoo!” the children collectively shouted out, beyond gleeful their grandpa was not only on board with the shenanigans, but would most likely protect them from any serious trouble from Grandma Helen. They gathered up two Cherry Bombs, the lighters, and the washtub and paraded toward the rose bushes.
Otis hung back and stepped in beside Grandpa Ed, who was bringing up the rear of the mob. “Grandpa, I need to tell you something,” he quickly whispered.
Ed slowed his stride, seeing the concern on his youngest grandson’s face. “Oh, Otis, what is it?”
“I ummm, well, I,” Otis stammered, afraid of the potential trouble facing him for blowing up the roses. He looked toward the group headed toward the rose bushes—who hadn’t seen the destruction yet—and quickly blurted out, “I blew up some roses with my fire crackers. I’m really sorry, Grandpa. Please don’t be mad at me.”
Ed stopped and so did Otis. Ed saw Otis’s tiny lower lip tremble slightly, realizing the child was seriously afraid he’d done something tragically wrong. He put his big, weathered hand on Otis’s shoulder. “Oh, Otis, let’s go see how much fun you had.”
Otis’s shock at his grandpa’s reaction lasted only a brief moment. He wasn’t in trouble! Racing full-speed ahead, Otis passed his partners in crime, hitting ground-zero before anyone could put together the scene. “Here, Grandpa!” he shouted. “Here it is, all this flower confetti is mine!’
The group of kids, along with Ed, stopped to inspect the millions of red, pink, and yellow specks of flower littering a fairly large area. They also noticed two huge, gaping voids in the rose bushes. No one spoke, but all eyes were on Ed to watch his reaction.
“Impressive, Otis,” he commented. “You made quite a mess, but I bet you had a blast doing it, huh?”
“I sure did!” Otis sparked.
“That’s what I figured,” Ed snorted. “How about we not blow up any more roses?”
The siblings and cousins roared with laughter, “Oh, Otis!” several of them shouted in appreciation for his spectacular display of destruction.
“Wish you woulda hollered,” Deanie hooted. “I would’ve loved to see that!”
Otis breathed a sigh of relief, happy his grandpa wasn’t mad and proud his collaborators applauded his stunt. He felt older and more appreciated.
“Ok, let’s light ‘er up!” Chuck shouted.
Cletis and LeRoy placed the two Cherry Bombs gently on the ground, while Doris held the washtub near them, ready to drop it and run once the fuses were lit.
“Ready?” Cletis whispered to LeRoy.
“Ready!” LeRoy breathed back.
They flicked their lighters and lit the fuses at the exact same time. Doris immediately dropped the washtub over the red devils, and the three ran for safety. Ed herded them all back about 50 yards in case the spectacular event sent shrapnel flying.
The moments before the Cherry Bombs blew seemed to last forever.
A deafening blast erupted as the washtub missiled skyward in spectacular fashion. Dust and grass flew in every direction, along with pieces of galvanized steel. Every pair of eyes watched as the tub reached the climax of the rocket ride about thirty feet high, hung in the air for a nanosecond, and came hurtling back down to earth. It landed with a tremendous clatter, creating a poof of dust. Everyone raced to the tub to inspect the delightful, delicious damage.
The tub lay in a heap, the entire bottom blown away, leaving just the side of the tub in a warbled and misshapen ring of steel. An explosion of pure, unadulterated wave of euphoria belted out of everyone, sending Doris, Cletis, Chuck, and LeRoy rolling on the ground in hysterics. Ed whooped and hollered, Otis danced around, and the rest spouted out shrieks of disbelief and awe. The collective jocularity continued several minutes until they could all catch their breath.
“That was soooo cool!” Otis gushed.
“Oh, Otis, it sure was,” Grandpa Ed laughed.
Suddenly, the celebratory air was fractured by a shrill voice coming from the direction of the house. “Ed, just what in Sam Hill are you all up to?” Grandma Helen demanded. “Was that one of my washtubs?”