My daddy grew up during the Great Depression. There was precious little money for gifts at Christmas especially in a household of nine children. They felt very lucky to find their stockings filled with candy and fruit on Christmas morning. On occasion their dad would splurge on fireworks to celebrate the holiday season. One particular Christmas season a whole box of fireworks was filled to the brim with all manner of pyrotechnics and set in the large hallway that ran from the front to the back of the house. There were sparklers, firecrackers, bottle rockets, and at the very top sat a large Roman Rocket – all waiting for their turn to light up the winter night sky. Every time little Wallace passed by this box he stopped to examine the contents and he would feel a little shiver of anticipation. The waiting for Christmas seemed interminable to him and his excitement mounted a little higher each day. Time seemed to only inch forward and he salivated and practically drooled every time he looked at the future illuminations and imagined the joy of seeing them fill the air with fire and sound.
One evening on his way to bed the impatient youth once again stopped by the box of fireworks to look, inspect, and dream of what was to come. As fate would have it there was a box of matches sitting close by and the anxious, frustrated boy could not help himself. He picked up the box of matches and took one out. He held the wooden stick of phosphorous high and imagined it spewing fire and how good it would feel to touch that fire to a wick on just one of the promising bursts. His eagerness drove him to strike the match. He didn’t intend to fire anything – just “scratch the itch” in his tortured soul. He bent over close to the box and the large Roman Rocket filled his vision – looming larger than all the rest. He knew that this magnificent thing would be the height of the evening – the grand climax! And he could hardly wait. What would it look like as it sputtered to life? What would it sound like? The anticipation was so great it overcame his ability to judge the safety of his actions. He waved the lighted match very slowly near the Rocket’s wick – closer and closer and closer and suddenly it caught flame. And before he could get hold of himself and the reality of what was happening the Roman Rocket took off – straight to the ceiling where it bounced off and headed toward the front door where it was deflected. The rocket turned and headed straight toward him and although he dived for the floor to avoid being struck it was only a matter of seconds before it whooshed to the end of the hall and was back for another attack. The agile boy ended up ducking and diving all over the hallway as the rocket careened and roared and whistled and attacked and chased him for what seemed like forever. He was half deaf and nearly exhausted when it finally came to a crashing halt a few feet from his shaken body and his mother came to see what in the world had happened to her quiet evening. She took in the scene and understood in a flash what had happened. Once she knew her boy was not physically hurt she just shook her head. There was no punishment that could equal the fact that there would be no Roman Rocket for the Christmas Eve display. It seemed the rocket had meted out its own sense of justice. My daddy was profoundly sorry for denying the beauty of the giant rocket to the rest of his family. But it was an experience that lived in his memory forever and his telling of it was a fabulous gift to me and my little brother – and then to his grandchildren. I’d say that whatever my Grampa paid for that spectacular rocket was well worth the price and then some!