My Dad’s side of the family was really close. I had one aunt and uncle that lived in Texas and one aunt and uncle that lived in Elizabethtown. Other than that, everyone else was fairly close and most lived on my dad’s street. Every summer we would have a family reunion and everybody in the family would try to come. Many times we had these when my brother was home on leave from the Air Force. And we always had them at Dad’s house.
Now, my dad had one brother and six sisters and they all had kids and some of their kids had kids. I would guess there would be between seventy to ninety kinfolk present each year. Dad would set up the horse shoes and his brother and sisters and their husbands would play all day. The younger group would stay close to the keg of beer and listen to music or play cards or just talk. The really young ones would try to get close to the keg, so we had to keep a good eye on them. Actually, the first beer I ever tasted was at a family reunion. I was about nine I guess and I had been running around playing and had gotten hot so I wanted something to drink. I looked in the cooler for soda but got side tracked by my aunt’s husband’s brother. He told me I could have a drink of his soda. Well, I am not stupid and I knew that was a beer. So what did I do? Chugged it. Ewe…I about got sick. So, it was a few more years before I tried beer again.
Anyway, Dad would buy a couple of kegs of beer and all the women would fix a dish and my uncle, who lived next door to Dad, would grill burgers and hot dogs. No matter when we actually held the reunion, we made sure we had fireworks. So, every time a few of us would pitch in and buy as many as we could. And each year we had a big fire work display as soon as it got really dark. The older crowd and the small kids would gather lawn chairs and sit in between my dad’s house and my aunt Sarah’s house and they would spread out and make a large semi circle. This way they had a good view and they were far enough away to be safe. We would always have a piece of plywood on two saw horses to shoot the fireworks on. And, me and my brother and a couple of cousins would light the fireworks and watch them explode and all the spectators would applaud.
One year, my brother and I went in together and spent an extra hundred dollars on a fire work called The General Lee. This thing had five hundred shots so we were saving it for the finale. It was about an hour after we had started our firework show, when it came time for The General Lee. I made the announcement, “Now for the finale!” Everybody clapped and was excited. Now, you have to know that all of us had been drinking beer since noon, so we were all pretty lit. And I don’t know what caused this, but I will never forget what happened that night. My brother lit The General Lee and some how it got tipped over and was facing right into the crowd. I saw it and screamed, “RUN!” One shot went off and then another and then another; then another and believe me, I have never seen so many old people run so fast in my life. My aunt Sarah even jumped over her chair to get out of the line of fire. People spread out in every direction and many ran into Aunt Sarah’s house to get away from The General Lee. Damn spark got on my shorts and burned a hole in them; my brother got burnt trying to set The General Lee up right and one of my uncles who was watching from a distant got burnt on his back. After the last shot went off, everyone gathered again and after we found no one was seriously injured, we had a really good laugh. Me and my brother and sister still laugh about it today.
One other time comes to mind when I think about fire works. My brother was on leave and he and his wife and my sister were at my house and we started talking about The General Lee. My brother asked if I had any fireworks. I didn’t, but he said he did. So he walked down to Dad’s to get his fireworks and came back in a few minutes. We were sitting on my back deck and he says, “Okay. Are you ready?” He gets a lighter from my sister and walks out to the middle of my back yard. He lights the firework and runs back to the deck and sits down. We are all sitting there waiting for this thing to go off and it didn’t. So, my brother gets up and starts walking to the firework to light it again. He had not taken two steps when we saw the biggest flash of light and the loudest sound I have ever heard in my life. This was so loud, the explosion rattled my aunt Sarah’s windows. I said, “Holy shit! What kind of firework was that?” My brother giggled and said it was a war games grenade he had gotten while training in Korea. The next morning I went out back and notice a bare spot in my yard. I walked over to it, and I will be damn if that grenade didn’t blow a hole in my yard three inches deep and two feet wide. My neighbor’s talked about this explosion for days and it scared one of their dogs so bad, he ran off for a week. Did my brother ever set off another grenade? Probably, but not in my neighborhood.