July 4th, 1979
Ten years earlier we had lived in the house next door. I had loved living on Main Street back then. The neighbors were all well established and their homes very comfortable. The yards had mature fruit trees in back and sidewalks out front. Many of the houses had front porches, as did my grandparent’s former house next door.
Our house had a full width, deep front porch. But it had been closed in by the real estate agent who had lived there before us. The front porch was the main office area and the dining room had been his inner office.
But now the house was a rental, and I had moved there with my mother, step-father, and three younger siblings. Our blended family filled the house. Life seemed so different now than it had been when I lived three years with my grandparent next door a decade earlier. And it was.
The death of my grandfather started a cascade of events that, looking back, were fairly catastrophic in my life. My grandmother sold his insurance agency to Thompson & Peck down on Elm Street. My mother’s widowed aunt moved in with us. My mother dated and then married an old boyfriend from high school. We moved first to Chalker Beach and then to Clinton. And my grandmother sold the house.
It had been eight years since she had sold up and left. That was more than half a lifetime for me at that point, but it was likely just a blink of an eye to my grandmother. Even my mother felt that it was just a short time since her husband had courted her with his visits at that house. But my grandmother felt much more at home next door than visiting with us, I’m certain.
But that July 4th she was visiting us. I had been working at Cello Oyster House in Guilford and had met up with a guy who was selling bootleg fireworks. I bought a big batch and wanted to have a nice display out in the cornfield behind the house. I took an old street sign out to use as a flat, non-flammable surface from which to launch my pyrotechnics show.
My mother, grandmother, and step-father had brought out lawn chairs, carrying them the 50 or 60 yards from the back garage. There was about a quarter acre at the back of the yard that we never mowed, but us kids had made a regular path through the grass that was above my knees. Just beyond it was the farm path that the trucks and tractors came through to get to the fields.
The folks set up their chairs about twenty feet from my little platform and I began to entertain the eight of us (the folks, an uncle, and my siblings) with pretty fountains and small rockets. My step-father wanted the display kept reasonable and not too loud, since he was a police officer in town and because one of the sergeants lived a couple hundred yards away on Shepherd Street.
Most of the fireworks I had were roadside stand staples, but some were more the homemade variety. I saved one of the homemade deals for the finale. I really didn’t know what it was. The guy I bought from had thrown it in and all I caught of what he said about it was that the three little tubes would each launch a small “shell” into the air. My imagination was of something pretty. Three pretty somethings.
I placed the firework on the sign-platform and lit the fuse. I stepped back a few feet and looked up just in time to see the first tube launch a fireball up about ten feet, where it exploded with a flash and a ka-boom that sounded like a shotgun. I backed away further before the second shell launched about twenty feet in the air and made the same type of racket.
About then everyone was standing and grabbing their chairs. I grabbed my box of fireworks and headed for the house. I looked over my shoulder as the third shell launched, high into the air. About the time it exploded, the back porch light at the sergeant’s house came on. When I turned back to see where I was going down the narrow path through the tall grass, something or someone began to pass me on the right.
I don’t think I will ever forget, even after I get to the age where I’ve forgotten what year it is, the sight of my grandmother, then 73, clutching her lawn chair and passing me on the right as she fled the cornfield. My siblings and I still remember and retell the story at family gatherings. Grandma outran the pack, in the dark, and not even on the path! And she remembered to grab (and fold) her chair first!
My grandmother was game for most of my shenanigans. And I don’t recall her scolding me or regretting any of our hijinks. Obviously, she was having as much fun as I ever did.