Thursday, December 31, 1959 was the very last day of the first full decade of my young life and I intended to usher in the 1960’s with a blast.
Many blasts in fact.
So it was, that when my Aunt made it known that she and my Uncle would be heading into Sarasota soon to attend a party that evening and my older cousin would be out on a date with a girl, I was only slightly relieved when I realized that my younger cousin who was my age and I were not being left completely alone. We at least had the protection of the family dog, Muffin, a golden cocker spaniel with a sweet disposition, and a full complement of sharp, white pointy teeth. Teeth that would come in very handy in the event she had to defend us from the escaped convict that we learned from listening to the radio was on the loose, that very evening– and was thought to be hiding in our area!
After my aunt, uncle and older cousin drove away and left us alone with Muffin, Rusty and I went around the house turning on all the lights and locking all the doors. Surely no escaped convict in his right mind would venture anywhere near a small beach house in the middle of nowhere with two 12 year-old boys and a cocker spaniel in it. Especially if it was all lit up.
Everyone knows criminals usually stay close to the shadows, and out of the sight of people to avoid detection.
Petting Muffin and telling her about the escaped convict didn’t make either of us feel much better. So we decided to take matters into our own hands.
From the small black suitcase with the green satin lining, I extracted one cherry bomb and using my uncle’s cigarette lighter, I lit it– while my cousin tossed the now-fizzling explosive out the side door and into a slightly wooded area about forty feet from the house.
Three seconds later, there was a very loud and satisfying explosion.
The exploding cherry bomb lit up the trees and bushes in the area. Surely that was more than enough to discourage any escaped convict from venturing any closer.
Just to make sure he got the message we lit a TNT and threw that outside– and in a few seconds there was aneven louder more thunderous explosion.
Any latent fear I may have had after the cherry bomb went off had now completely vanished.
Rusty and I were like two soldiers on the beach at Iwo Jima. Gripping another TNT in one hand and the cigarette lighter between my teeth, I peered out the window into the darkness. There was a flickering light. I looked at Rusty. He looked at me.
“The convict must be over there by that palm tree cooking something on a fire. I’ll bet he has a can of beans or some wieners or marshmallows on a stick and is roasting them.”
We briefly considered sending Muffin out there, but by now Muffin was nowhere to be found.
This was serious.
We’d have to deal with this situation ourselves.
We hurled another lit cherry bomb in his direction and there was another explosion. Now something was different, though. No longer was there just the reflection of a flickering campfire on some trees, but now the whole area was ablaze and sparks were rising against the night sky, threatening to set the trees on fire.
Rusty and I ran outside.
The woods were on fire. I didn’t know what to do. Rusty began stomping on the grass and beating at the flames wildly with his coat. We heard the distant sounds of a fire engine going up and down the road. They must be looking for us. Rusty told me to run down to the end of the road so they would know where to turn. I was always a very fast runner. I did as I was told.
Rusty stayed behind and beat at the flames with his coat. Just as I got to the end of the road the firemen saw me and turned in and with siren blaring and red lights flashing proceeded up the road to the house at a high rate of speed. I followed on foot, out of breath and not running as fast this time.
By the time I got there, the fire was pretty much out and while one fireman was dousing what was left of it with a hose another fireman was talking to Rusty, whose face was all sooty and and whose new coat looked partially burned.
I almost didn’t recognize my cousin Rusty in the flashing red and white lights from the fire truck.
I knew we were going to be in a lot of trouble and I was glad that my aunt and uncle weren’t home just then. I wondered if Rusty’s father was the type of guy to punish his son with a belt or the type that just spanked you on the butt with his bare hand. I wondered if he would just hit Rusty or if he would also hit me. I wondered if we were now too old to receive a spanking.
As I was mulling over the possibilities, the fireman turned to me and looked directly into my eyes.
“You boys did the right thing”, the fireman said, “You boys are heroes!” ….I straightened up slightly and tried my best to look like a hero…..
I looked at Rusty.
He was kind of heroic-looking, standing there all sooty.
Suddenly I was sorry that my aunt and uncle weren’t home. I wanted the fireman to tell them what he had told us. But they were somewhere else at a party, having a good time, mingling with real estate ladies, bankers and lawyers oblivious to their own heroic children.
As the firemen drove away and went back down the dirt road, for a moment, Rusty and I just stood there in the darkness looking at each other. Neither of us said a word.
Then we walked slowly back to the house and went inside and fell asleep– and dreamed the kind of dreams that only heroes can.