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From the Mouth of the River

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From the Mouth of the River

A small town fourth of July

Lovie and I were sitting out in the yard relaxing in our lawn chairs when I turned to her and said, “This is the perfect temperature for the Great Northwest. Not too hot, not too cold, just perfect weather.”

“Yes it is,” Lovie said. “What is the actual temperature?” she asked.

I checked both our thermometers, “Sixty-eight percent on both,” I said.

“That’s perfect,” she said, “I wonder how many days this year it has been this temperature?”

“Well, counting today I would say, one, so far.”

The Fourth of July, however, was fantastic. The best three-day weekend anyone can remember. The parade in Chipmunk Falls went off without a hitch. Not one person was killed, which was a disappointment to some who come just for the purpose of seeing which gene pool is going to be reduced and if by chance they had drawn that person’s name in the pool. Not saying there’s some families who couldn’t stand to lose a few chips off the old block but, hay, let the chips fall where they may. That’s what I always say.

On the Fourth of July our town is known for its fireworks. It all started back in the Depression when no one could afford store-bought firecrackers so they made their own out of black powder or dynamite. That soon escalated into a range war. Not the Old West kind, but to see who could shoot a beer can the furthest.

I asked Lefty how they celebrated the Fourth back before firecrackers. Lefty said his Pappy used ta entertain him and Stubby by driving a piece of one-inch pipe into a tree and loading it with black powder. He’d cut a hole in the pipe about an inch from the tree with a hacksaw. Then he’d build a fire and, using a burning stick, reach around the tree and touch it off. Made a hell of a noise and shot fire and smoke all over the place. Us kids would get a real kick out’a it.

One day when his Pappy was out running his trap line, Stubby decided it would be a good time for him and Lefty to try this idea out themselves and show Titsy how easy it was done. Unable to find any black powder, Stubby decided to use the new, smokeless powder from twelve gauge shotgun shells. No one told Stubby how much more potent this new powder was than the old black powder they had been using. Of course, he had no idea how much to put in the pipe to start with or how far to drive the pipe into the tree. I don’t remember how many shells Stubby said he used, but it was at least a double handful of powder. He said because it was his idea and since he was the oldest, he would get to touch it off. Stubby’s hearing didn’t come back for days and his eyes were so bloodshot he could hardly see.

The blast split the tree in half and they never did find that piece of pipe, Lefty said. Later they found out the military called what Stubby had “shell shock” and it kept him out of the Army.

Here in Chipmunk Falls black powder and dynamite were easy to come by. They sold it down at the Mercantile for loggers and farmers to blow stumps with and, of course, there was all that hard rock mining that required lots of dynamite. It all started out innocent enough. Make something small that would blow up and make some noise to celebrate our national holiday. Then someone put a can over it just to see how high it would go and then to see who could blow it the highest. Beer can cannons were made out of pipe welded to an axle on wheels. No one wanted to waste a full can of beer so it was drunk first, then shot off. The more beer they drank the bigger the charge and the higher and farther the projectiles went until someone got hurt. Then it was the Hatfields and the McCoys all over again.

Mrs. Sally Saw, who taught music at Chipmunk Falls middle school, complained that half of her students didn’t have enough fingers to play musical instruments. “Well,” said Mrs. Whipple, “that’s jes cause their family has a weak gene pool. Got nuffen ta do wif fireworks.”

Tourists driving through town had no idea until it was too late that they were the targets for the beer cans, plus bottle rockets and roman candles that a few in town could afford. The Geneva Convention came into play and finally some rules were laid down. No one under fourteen could use dynamite and then no more than a half a stick in the city limits.

This lasted a few years until the citizens started complaining of all the one-eyed cats with hairless tails, spastic dogs, and chickens that were egg bound. Milk cows wouldn’t let their milk down until it clabbered and some had mastitis because of all the noise over the Fourth. Grass and brush fires were constantly being set by haphazard use of fireworks. Finally, it was decided something had to be done before there were casualties.

“Here’s what we’ll do,” said the city fathers. “Everyone will bring their family fireworks to the football field at dusk and take turns shooting them off, after which the city will put on its own fireworks display. This will keep the fire hazard contained in one place and be easy to control.”

This was the first year Lovie and I went to this function; we had to park several blocks away and walk up the side streets to the football field. In doing so we noticed other families doing the same, except they were carrying trash can lids and the streets were lined with EMTs from all over the state. I asked one of the drivers as we passed by why there were so many EMTs.

“You’re new here, aren’t you?” he said. “We all come here each year for emergency training in flesh wounds and the handling of burn victims.”

As luck would have it we found a seat in the end zone. No sooner had we set down than the fireworks began. Everyone that was lined up around the outside of the football field started shooting off firecrackers, bottle rockets, roman candles and other flaming missiles all at the same time and all aimed towards the center of the field. That meant they were all basically shooting at each other no matter where they were. That’s where the trash can lids came into play. They were used as shields to protect people from the incoming fireworks! Soon there were screams of pain and profanity as people were being hit with something still blazing in sparkling colors. One woman ran by us with her hair all ablaze in bright orange while her husband was chasing her, trying to put out the fire with a can of beer. As I turned to Lovie, a rocket went right between us and landed amidst a family of five and one golden Lab, who left with their youngest attached to his leash and was later seen crossing the highway down by Hay’s gas station. Yep, I believe Chipmunk Falls has finally solved its containment problem for their Fourth of July fireworks.

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Boots Reynolds Boots Reynolds The "internationally-renowned cowboy artist" Boots Reynolds has moved his comedic interpretation of life into the writing field with his regular column in the River Journal - From the Mouth of the River.

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