Friday, July 03, 2009

Memories of July 4th - My old neighborhood, my brother, and a dog

So I finished up caulking tonight and my thoughts naturally turned to the Fourth of July and what we would be doing on that day considering it is also my youngest daughters birthday. My rambling thoughts couldn't help but think back to my old stomping grounds in North Carolina.

We grew up in a bedroom community that pretty much resembles most suburban housing developments these days. I guess we were setting a trend and we didn't know it. Our community was known as Bent Creek and we were also setting a trend of having private swimming pools for the residents, but ours came we a slightly different twist.

Instead of a homeowners association building it, it was bought and paid for by everyone who lived in the community. We paid yearly dues for the upkeep and employment of lifeguards who all became our adoptive parents during the summer months of swimming and hanging out with friends.

The one fond memory I have of the place was July 4th. The community had come together to plan a full day of activities for all ages at the Bent Creek Lodge. We had diving for money events, the longest swim while holding your breath (one guy went for 10 laps in the Olympic-size pool), the craziest dive contest (in which my brother suffered terribly for days from all the belly-flops he did), and the classic "greased pig" contest.

The day always ended with a huge potluck dinner in the main dining room of the lodge with food, fixings, and dessert brought in by every family in the community. It had also inspired me to bake my first cake one summer that looked a lot like a red, white, and blue drum.

Now on one particular July 4th, it rained. Disappointment that morning was replaced with my brother Bob and mine's determination to bring that greased pig home that day; meaning the watermelon grabbing contest. No amount of rain was going to deter us from having watermelon on July 4th because we were also going to "celebrate" the attempt of my brother's ability to fire off a part of a jet engine in the backyard that was given to him by my uncle.

I'll get to that later.

We walked through our backyard over to the Lodge through a mild drizzle of rain and dreary skies, and met up with about eight other eager contestants vying for the same damn watermelon.

We needed a plan!

We quietly snuck off to the side and discussed our strategy plan since the watermelon was covered with Crisco shortening; thus calling it the greased pig. The plan was for me to get under the "pig" and he would divide and conquer by covering the top, and by all means:


We kids lined up, the whistle blew, and it was every boy/girl for themselves; except for my brother and I; we were the perfect team. I fought with all my might and successfully wound up on the bottom of that watermelon holding on for dear life. I could see the claw marks from little fingernails as we all were scratching and digging our way for the prize. My brother battled big kids as well as little ones to claim his position on the top.

I looked up and realized that our plan was succeeding; he and I had completely wrapped our now-greased bodies around that slimy green watermelon to alienate any others ability to get a secure attachment by way of hand or fingernail.

The whistle blew again; my brother and had won the contest. They had to pull kids off of my brother who were trying to break his hold on top of that watermelon as the rain began to fall harder on our heads. That rain didn't matter anymore as we grinned from ear to ear over our achievement that morning. We walked home with a proud gait and the watermelon hoisted over Bob's shoulder, then slapped that sucker on the kitchen table when we got home.

All that mom cared about at that moment when she saw us was the amount of laundry soap she would have to use to clean all that Crisco out of our clothes.

My father managed to grill hamburgers outside in the wet drizzle that day, and we scarfed down that watermelon like it was our last; my brother and I had earned it. Then it was time for Bob and my dad to proceeded to the backyard with this metal rocket-looking thing that use to be a component of a jet engine. I'm not sure, but I'm pretty sure it was rocket fuel they used to fire "her up". Call it their own special fireworks show they were attempting to conduct.

Now my brother loves doing stuff like this because he's always been considered kind of a "Techno-Geek" when we were growing up. This is a kid who read about and taught himself binary coding when he was only seven. So messing around with jet engine parts is pretty elementary for a budding teenager at this point. There is some truth to saying that geniuses are crazy.

They were out there for hours as friends of ours came to play and watch "whatever the heck" my brother was up to this time. Every once in awhile we would here a one second honking-like noise (think a loud half-dead duck), came from the thing as they patiently filled and refilled it with fuel and tinkered to get it working.

I remember walking on the street in front of our home with a couple of friends and looking up at the cloud-filled sky while feeling little drops of rain here and there on my face. I had just finished looking in on my brother and my dad in the back yard, and presently discussing it with my friends about their "experiment".

Suddenly a noise so blasting loud and thunderous emitted itself from my back yard. It lasted maybe 5 seconds, but I swear it sounded as if the heavens themselves had opened up and the sound of a trillion horses hooves could be heard galloping down with the archangel Gabriel blasting his horn in the process!

I was completely paralyzed from the sound, but as I looked up, I could see people coming over the hill from the Lodge, and others suddenly appearing from their front doors and wandering in the street while looking to the sky. I just couldn't hear a damn thing at that point.

They must have thought that Gabrielle himself had blown his horn as I did.

People must have hit the phones because it wasn't too long before police cars started coming up and down our street trying to figure out what the sound was. My neighbors had been overheard next door while eating their July 4th dinner over glasses of wine: "The end of the world has come!"

But I'm pretty sure that they were already pretty drunk at that point.

My father was a big CB buff at the time, and immediately went to his radio where CB'ers (or whatever the hell you call them), were already reporting over the airwaves that the sound was heard as far as the Blue Ridge Parkway which was a good 2-3 miles from our front door.

My brother and father scared the living hell out of everybody that day - and it was pretty damn funny too. It left us all laughing our asses off for hours afterwards, even though we were a little hard of hearing as a result!

Now that he and my father had given everyone in our normally quiet little suburban community (plus some), a heart attack for the day, it was time for my brother to aim his talents in another direction.

Now this happened quite by total accident, but nevertheless, it happened. It was dark and we were all preparing to shoot off our favorite fireworks: bottle rockets. My brother was ALWAYS into new and inventive ways to do things (well DUH!), so he decided to shoot them from a metal tent pole he found stored in our laundry room. He wanted a way to be able to "aim" the bottle rocket in the direction he wanted it to go.

Unfortunately, this didn't go too well.

Well, he stuck that bottle rocket in the end of that tent pole and lit it up. What he didn't do was pay attention to where he was actually pointing the sucker. The wick fizzled with all it's might then.....


Off that blazing blue flame went, right smack into the collar of our neighbors German Shepherd dog who was standing about 20 feet away, and where it got stuck!

Suddenly, we were a flurry of kids running after a panic-stricken dog who hadn't a clue how to get it off of that animal before it went BOOM!

Which it finally did, and which some of us soiled our undies after it did.

We finally caught up with the German Shepherd to see if he was okay. He was a bit shaky and shy, and sporting a little bit of fringed and smoking fur, but otherwise, not a scratch on him. But he wasn't too fond of loud noises after that night.

"Please PETA, don't come after me for this story. It happened when we were kids and no one ever tried such an attempt ever after that; especially my brother."

So to all this weekend I say Happy Fourth of July and I hope you make many more memories so that we can all share with in the future and have good laughs about.

Just DON'T include any jet engines or bottle rocket modifications in your plans.

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