Yesterday was the day for fireworks and I got to thinking about Little Roy.
And that made me remember a special example of the pyrotechnician’s art: the JumboBlast rocket. (This all happened way back when I was just a lad of ten years of age, which is way back indeed.)
We had heard about that rocket because so many of the kids our age spoke of it. However, it was extremely expensive – it cost fifty cents – so it was out of the question for our celebratory pyrotechnics.
You see, at that time we were in the middle of the depression. I mean The Big One, the worst depression in our nation’s history. This was bad for the entire country, but it was also bad for me: if I ever had more than one dime at any time I would have considered myself on the road to affluence.
On the same street where I lived were the Yeagers, a family of four boys, so I hung out there a lot. They too were also suffering from galloping penuriousness. Our holiday was spent disappointingly with sparklers and very cheap firecrackers, so weak that if anyone was speaking loudly when you set one off you could entirely miss the “pop” sound.
But on that day the youngest brother, Little Roy, five or six years old, had a secret.
A secret no one knew about, for he certainly had told no one. For the past few years, for most of his life as a matter of fact, Little Roy had been hoarding. Any penny, along with the rare occasional nickel, that he managed to get hold of he hid away in a special cache only he, acting aloof, knew about. I’m not sure he was aware of how much he finally had because counting past ten wasn’t what he was good at, but it turned out to be a total of about fifty cents.
We learned that because one of his brothers had stumbled upon this whole treasure and suddenly our July Fourth took on dazzling possibilities.
The Yeager guys were not bad with their little bro. They didn’t bully him and they certainly wouldn’t physically harm him. But they, and I, set out on a propaganda campaign to illuminate for him what a sensational holiday this could be. If he’d just turn over those fifty centavos, we could actually go and buy a JumboBlast rocket!
Think of it, Little Roy! Your rocket – (yes, we’d make sure it was known as his) – would shoot up into the firmament and explode and the entire vault of heaven would burst forth into brilliant, positively ravishing examples of incredible fireworks display. We would have a holiday none of us would ever forget.
It wasn’t hard. Little Roy wanted the rocket as much as the rest of us.
Long story short, one of the older boys went and bought the device. We set it up carefully in a wide patch of the back yard. It was a thrilling moment when the lit match touched the fuse.
I was only ten or so, and I didn’t know all that much about aerodynamics, so I didn’t understand why the rocket, as it started off, suddenly took a quick turn to the right. It shot like a bullet just over nearby housetops and in a matter of a second or two was totally out of sight. Its pyrotechnical effect was zero.
Whatever dazzling display that rocket was going to put on would be displayed before someone else. Little Roy had a stunned look on his face, as if to say: Was that it!!!?
There was not much we could say to ease the situation. Little Roy just sat there staring into space, thinking about his life savings, perhaps hoping the rocket's absence was only temporary and it would come back again and perform as expected.
The rest of us got together and ponied up some money so we could buy him a Popsicle. That helped a little. In its way it was a Fourth of July I’ve never forgotten.