The Wrong Rocket For The Right Reason

Every Fourth of July, my Dad told the story. It must have been true, because he always told it the same way.

He was about eleven years old. Family members, friends, and neighbors of the rural community had gathered to celebrate the holiday. There, under a big shade tree, were tables loaded with food ready to soon be eaten, and surrounded by everyone having a good visit.

As expected, the four boys there, including him, were roaming around looking for something to do. Sure, as all boys always are, they were hungry. They had already eyed the tables and were looking forward to the signal to “dig in.”

They were, however, more interested in what would be coming later after that — the fireworks. The sparklers and firecrackers in a couple of boxes not far from the food tables would be a lot of fun, but the rockets would be the most exciting. They were in a special box that had been placed around the corner of the house and out of the way.

The dads, guessing the rockets held keen interest for the boys, had already warned them to not even go near the box. For a time, they didn’t. They just milled around while trying to control the urge to have a closer look, especially since the box was out of sight of everyone else. Eventually, however, good sense and following orders took a vacation as the boys edged closer to the box and slowly lifted the lid. There they were, almost a dozen rockets just waiting to be lit.

One of the boys, and my dad insisted it wasn’t him, convinced the others that surely it wouldn’t hurt to light just one to see what it would do. With their imaginations now running wild and borderline out of control, they propped one the rockets upright, struck a match, and lit it. Even as the ignited fuse began to burn toward the rocket, none of the boys gave any thought to possible consequences.

As expected, the rocket went straight up, but instead of continuing upward as it was supposed to do, it fizzled, hesitated, then nosed over and headed straight down, not toward the roof as logic would dictate, but with an impossible twist of fate, into the downspout connected to the gutters.

After rattling its way downward through the pipe, it lost its fizzle and came to life just before rounding the curve at the bottom. With a roar and a trail of smoke barely one foot off the ground, it headed straight for the tables around which sat all those good folks having a fine visit.

The second “impossible” happened when it miraculously missed everything and everybody, sped on for about another fifty feet, and exploded to shell shock the already confused, bewildered, and utterly surprised. Birds in nearby trees took flight and some cows in a nearby field ran as the sound of the explosion bounced off the broad side of a nearby barn. Back at the tables, some of the women were coughing after getting whiffs of the stream of smoke.

In an attempt to replace sudden panic with gentle calmness, the neighbor who was to give the blessing before the meal, spontaneously uttered a prayer thanking God that nobody was hurt.

My dad never did say what the boys received as punishment except that the next day, none of them could sit down without feeling considerable pain.

That was more than a hundred years ago and all of everything that once was there is surely gone by now. The story, too, would have disappeared had it not been for my dad telling me. Now, I’m passing it on to you.

Indeed, the Fourth of July has held a sweet spot in the innards of everyone who has ever celebrated by getting together to eat well, having fun, then waiting for the coming of dusk and fireworks — that noisy and dramatic event that caps off a great day and offers a dramatic salute to the Republic that although repeatedly challenged by discord of one kind or another, is still standing “with liberty and justice for all.”

May its flag continue to wave.