When I opened the email I got last April from ‘DONALD AND,’ I figured there was a miscommunication when the account was set up. That happened to my friend, Roy Don McBroom. He told the ISP lady on the phone he wanted his email address to be RD@whatever, but she didn’t understand. So he told her, very carefully, to write down ‘R only D only.’ He ended up with the email address ‘firstname.lastname@example.org.’
Which is probably what happened when Don Boyd decided to set up an address, and ended up with DONALD AND. Or maybe not. It’s none of my business, anyway. Forget I mentioned it.
Don was responding to a column I wrote back in April, about bunny suits and the movie ‘A Christmas Story,’ which is the greatest Christmas movie ever made. It’s about a boy growing up in Hohman, Indiana in the 1950s. I don’t think there’s really a Hohman, Indiana, but there is a Hammond, Indiana. I’d look that up, but I don’t care.
Anyway, Don grew up in Hammond, Indiana, in the 1950s, which is actually where ‘A Christmas Story’ is set. And his best friend lived next to a guy named Jean Shepherd, who later wrote a book called, ‘In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.’ The movie was adapted from parts of the book, so Don is intimately familiar with all the stuff in there. He even offered to loan me his copy, which I happily accepted.
The parts about Christmas were pretty much exactly as depicted in the movie, so I could have narrated large sectors of the book without reading it. But there were some other parts I’d never read, and which turned out to be almost as good. And one part, about July 4 fireworks in Hohman, was actually better than the movie, although a lot shorter.
I’ve been saving this story, and hanging onto Don’s book, since April, so I could relate it in this column last week. Of course, I forgot about it until now, but I don’t want to keep Don’s book for another year. Besides, I’m always late.
All kids love fireworks, and I, personally, was lucky enough to have been a kid at a time when you could still get some decent explosives at the local fireworks stand before Christmas and July 4. That’s changed now, and you can hardly get anything impressive without an ATF license, a degree in explosive ordinance, and a note from your mother.
According to Jean Shepherd, the fireworks I could get in the 70s were all duds compared to the ones he could get in the 50s. Back then guys would sit on their porches and light off two-inch chunks of actual sticks of dynamite and chunk them into their yards. Windows cracked, dishes rattled in cabinets up and down the streets, and old ladies were hurled into their hedges. But it was OK, because it was Independence Day, so there you go.
The biggest of all poppers, though, was the politically incorrectly named ‘Dago Bomb.’ It was named as a sort of tribute, and no one objected. It came in four sizes – 5 inch, 8 inch, 10 inch, and Sure Death. The Dago Bomb was like a one-off Roman candle of epic proportions, and the projectiles exploded in the air.
So the July 4 streets of Hammond, in Jean’s youth, were fairly bloodless war zones. Until the year the town drunk, Ludlow Kissel, came up with a Dago Bomb that was at least 18 inches high.
Ludlow stumbled out of his house and made his way up the street, and a quiet settled over the neighborhood. Something was coming, and people started watching Ludlow’s progress. He wove his way to the middle of the empty thoroughfare and carefully chose a random patch of concrete for his blast zone. A crowd began to gather.
Patting his pockets, Ludlow’s legacy was almost lost for want of a light, but then someone stepped forward and handed him a book of matches. Over a hundred people watched as match after match blew out in the slight breeze, until finally a kid ran up and gave Ludlow a burning punk.
After studying the punk for a minute, Ludlow perceived that it would do to light his bomb, and began poking it at the fuse. After several tries he managed to connect, and the crowd was rewarded with a distinct hiss. Ludlow continued to stab the punk at the fuse, until someone shouted, “Hey, Kissel, it’s lit!”
Ludlow looked up, puzzled, and said, “What’s lit?”
Realization dawned, and in a near panic Ludlow began his unsteady escape, but in the process of turning he knocked the Dago Bomb on its side. The crowd hit the dirt, and Ludlow valiantly attempted to right the bomb, but fell flat on his back in the street. And waited for death.
Almost miraculously the charge missed the onlookers, and flew toward Ludlow’s house, and the four explosions that followed blew off his porch, and destroyed his neighbor’s trellis. Since no other damage was sustained, the entire affair of Kissel’s Folly was deemed a success. No harm, no foul, I guess.
We still celebrate Independence Day, but in a quieter, safer, more supervised and regulated fashion. People are seldom killed, and the crockery lies unmolested.
And if I ever manage to get hold of a Dago Bomb, I’m gonna change all that . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor writer and public speaker who plans to return Don’s book to him. Soon. Really. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or email@example.com