UNLIKELY HEROES

 

In late December of 1959, I carefully packed the small black pigskin suitcase with the green satin lining, which my father had loaned me for my trip, with all the cherry bombs, TNTs, dozens of packs of Anchor Brand flashlight crackers and bottle rockets– which I had purchased a month earlier at The Dixie Jungle– and quietly slipped aboard an overnight train from Savannah, Georgia to Sarasota, Florida, alone, to spend New Year’s with my cousin and his family. Not my parents, not the conductor, none of the other passengers, not even the porter, suspected what was in that little black pigskin suitcase.

 
The next day, my aunt and my cousin Rusty were waiting for me when the train pulled into the station.
 
I put my other suitcase, the one with my clothes in it, in the trunk of their car and kept the small black one by my side.
 
As my loving but naïve and unsuspecting aunt pulled out into traffic and gunned the engine toward home, Rusty and I, along with the black suitcase, occupied the backseat. He popped the question.
 
“Didja bring any firecrackers with you?”
 
This was the moment I had been waiting for. I had rehearsed the whole scenario in my mind over and over on the long train trip and now it was unfolding in real time. For just an instant I felt important, in control and powerful. I savored the moment.
 
Rather than respond verbally, I reached down and picked up the small black suitcase from the floor behind the front seat and placed it gingerly on my lap, while deftly placing both thumbs on the dual nickel-plated buttons that released the two nickel-plated clasps holding the suitcase closed.
 
My cousin edged a bit closer, a look of great anticipation on his 13 year-old face.
 
Simultaneously, so as to effect maximum impact upon my cousin, and in an effort to impress him, I released the two snaps on the black suitcase and they sprung open with considerable pent-up energy and rattled– or rather vibrated for a split-second against the shiny metal latch mechanism in a most satisfying way.
 
Then I carefully… and slowly lifted the lid of the suitcase revealing its neatly packed, cellophane-wrapped, colorfully-labeled, dangerous and highly-explosive contents.
 
I looked up at my cousin’s face.
 
His eyebrows were raised, and his eyes, ever-widening as his jaw dropped open. A drop of saliva dropped off the tip of his tongue and was quickly absorbed into an amber stripe on his Bermuda shorts.
 
My aunt drove on, happily-oblivious, as usual, to the dramatic events unfolding around her.
 
In about a half hour, she turned off the highway onto another road and not long after that, slowed down and turned right at a mailbox and followed a white-sand road that wound back through lush green and orange vegetation ending abruptly at a one story, low-slung ranch style beach house overlooking the Gulf of Mexico.
 
We had arrived.
 
My uncle was the manager of a nearby resort in Sarasota and had recently rented this hideaway in Siesta Key for himself and his family.
 
In a few days, amid palmetto trees, a grove of orange trees, an abandoned house and mere steps from the sand at Pont of Rocks Circle, and all alone, with no adult supervision, we would become unlikely heroes,Screen shot 2014-08-22 at 5.05.11 PM and there, amid the smoke, the fire and the loud explosions we would end the 1950’s.

 
 

 

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