Back in the day during the summer after my first two semesters of college, I came across a high school friend who was taking summer school college courses as was I. Why anyone would ever want to be associated with any college I went to was beyond me.
He introduced me to the sport of racquet ball and after the second set of summer courses he invited me to go on his annual two week trip to North Carolina to visit his relatives, which amazingly to me, he took at the end of every summer.
I honestly had no idea that anyone was allowed to do such a thing. But, I guess my friend Roger had gotten a government waiver of some sort.
We left a week later and headed down to North Carolina with an agenda and Roger driving. He insisted on driving due to the fact that I still had problems remembering which side of the road one is supposed to drive on.
We first got to a place called Taylorsville, where we met some of his family and spent our first night. I found out by looking through a local phone book that the town of Taylorsville had a whole bunch of people with the last name of Taylor. I have a sneaky suspicion that having all those Taylors may have something to do with the town being name Taylorsville.
The next day we drove out to his grandmother's farm which was situated outside the town limits in an area that consisted of very, very big farms. She, also, went by the name of Big Grandma.
Now Big Grandma had a very quaint and neat house on a very big farm, which may or may not be better than having a big house on a very quaint little farm.
Upon meeting Big Grandma, I immediately noticed that she wasn't very big at all. She was small and wiry and looked pretty good, especially for someone who was 90 years old. She was very spry and moved about the place like someone who was half her age. She was always busy tinkering all through the day. Her favorite tinkering was cooking. Big Grandma loved to cook and cook she could. She, also, loved to feed Roger and I, which, seeing the quality of the food she prepared, we had no objections. Her specialty was peach cobbler. We stayed the first three days of our two week trip at Big Grandma's house.
As I got to know Big Grandma, and her southern hospitality, I came to the conclusion that if anyone ever broke into her place and tried to rob her, she would beat the crap out of them before sitting them down and serving them peach cobbler. She would probably tell them that they can stay the night in the second bedroom on the right and that breakfast was served at 7:00 AM.
The first night that we spent at Big Grandma's house was pretty uneventful until about 5 PM. We were in the living room watching something on the TV when all of the sudden Big Grandma scurried into the room and immediately changed the channel to wrestling and sat herself in a rocking chair pulling it right up to the TV.
Immediately Big Grandma started screaming, yelling and cussing things like: "Get your God Damn ass in gear and do something. You don't have a clue to what you are doing! You're nothing but a bunch of lazy bums!"
She did all this cussing and yelling at Roger and I before the match had even started. Believe me, it got way worse when the commercials were over and the wrestling match began.
This whole scene was surreal. It reminded me of the Carol Burnett variety show which aired in the US in the mid to late 70's. They had a skit they used every now and then in which there was a southern family that would sit at the TV and the mother and son would argue over whether they should watch wrestling or Bowling for Dollars.
I honestly thought it was just a big made up comedy sketch.
Holly fucking shit! It was real!
I did everything that I could to keep from laughing. I actually had to go outside of the house and run to the barn a couple of times to just laugh hysterically so no one could hear or see me. The match ended at 6:00PM after which, Big Grandma got up from her seat and started moving about the house and tinkering again.
I looked at Roger who had a big smile on his face and asked:
"Why the hell didn't you tell me about this?"
He laughed and replied: "I just wanted to see your reaction. Every time I bring someone new down here I get a kick out of them the first time they see it all. But, guess what?"
"What?" I asked.
"It gets even better. Just hang around the living room until 7:00 PM".
Well I was not disappointed. At a minute before 7:00PM into the living room hobbled this bent, scrawny, and wrinkled guy who needed a cane to transverse the living room to get to the TV. As soon as he got there, he turned the channel to a station that was airing the show: Bowling for Dollars. He then sat down in the rocking chair that Big Grandma had vacated earlier.
And no kidding, the guy's name was: Uncle Bubba!
It was at this time that I nearly had a cardiac from laughing.
Uncle Bubba could barely cross the living room and yet when he sat down and Bowling for Dollars started, Uncle Bubba started jumping up and down like a broken Jack-in-the-Box and screaming and yelling as if he was at the Super Bowl.
At that moment I was thinking to myself I had seen everything, but boy was I wrong!
The very next night, which happened to be Wednesday night, the house was empty except for Roger and me. Apparently, Big Grandma was at the church playing bingo and Uncle Bubba was at the local Lions Club. Things were quiet and both Roger and I were bored. We got ourselves a case of beer and after polishing it off, I came up with an ingenious idea.
I remembered that I had packed some bottle rockets in my luggage. I mentioned this to Roger and both of us quickly agreed that setting the suckers off would be a lot of fun. Hell, any suggestion made after a couple of guys have polished off a case of beer is a good suggestion, even if it were to entail going over Niagara Falls in a barrel.
So I grabbed the bottle rockets, a coke bottle, a lighter and out the door we went.
We picked a spot in the field just below a hill that looked over Big Grandma's house.
Now the field had been used to grow barley and the barley had already been harvested, so what was left of the barley was a bunch of 2 inch very dry stalks and a whole bunch of very brown and dry leaves and pieces of stalks. The month of August had been particularly dry in this part of North Carolina so we were standing on a field that was pretty much just a bunch of dry kindling.
As we prepared the launching of the bottle rockets, Roger told me to shoot them towards the top of the hill that overlooked Big Grandma's house just in case something might go astray and a fire might get started. Being the expert on pyrotechnics that I was, I assured Roger that no such thing would happen.
"These are all small bottle rockets that will explode well into the air. Nothing is going to land on the field and set it on fire".
Roger foolishly agreed to my advice and let me start shooting off the bottle rockets.
Things went as fine as a smooth bottle of Dewberry Wine, well at first that is. I had 12 bottle rockets and every single one of them shot straight up into the air and exploded at the height of their trajectory and all the sparks went out long before they hit the ground. Once through the twelve bottle rockets I did have one type of rocket left over.
Now this was a really big bottle rocket that was named the Bantam. The Bantam was a good six times the size of the smaller bottle rockets that we had previously launched and was heavy as hell. Roger looked at the thing and asked:
"Have you shot one of those off before? It looks like it could cause some problems on the field".
"No problem", I answered. "I had three and I shot two of them off and everything went just fine".
So I set the Bantam into the Coke bottle and ignited the fuse. After a few seconds the Bantam went off and instead of heading straight up into the air like the previous bottle rockets, this one was so big it tipped the bottle as it ignited causing it to shoot sideways. It gained a height of about ten feet and then flew parallel to the ground for about 70 yards or so. As the rocket started to descend onto the top of the dry barley laden hill, I couldn't help thinking to myself:
"Damn, that is the exact same thing that the other two Bantams did".
The rocket hit the ground and for some odd reason started to explode kind of like the last two except for the fact the last two landed in lush dew covered grass in the wee hours of the morning in the state of Maryland, which wasn't anywhere near as dry as the field we were contending with now.
Something told me as the rocket started spewing out flames that I probably should have thought this through before shooting it off. But, when you have drunk a half case of beer, those things really seem so insignificant
It was at this moment that time seemed to slow down. It must have been no more than half a second before the two of us realized the gravity of the situation and started sprinting like hell toward the little flame on top of the hill.
It seemed like an eternity before we reached the flames which has grown quite significantly and had engulfed a good ten foot wide oval that was heading towards Big Grandma's house due to a breeze that was blowing in that direction.
We both started stomping like a couple of banshees trying to get the flames out before they managed to run down the hill and fry the house and make all of Big Grandma's peach cobbler uneatable.
We seemed to make some progress in the beginning until the breeze kicked up a notch and started pushing the flames at a pace down the hill that we had trouble keeping up with. In a mere few seconds we both stopped and realized we were at a crises point. If we did not get the fire under control within the next few seconds, the farm and the house were going to be toast, not to mention the two of us.
Various thoughts of our options spiraled through both our minds, but the one we took was a last desperate attempt to get the fire under control. So we just started running about the edges of the fire stomping like mad.
During the stomping, I just couldn't help thinking to myself:
"I wonder if this is how hell got started".
We finally did manage to get the fire under control and stomp it out.
Afterwards, as we stood with our hands on our knees and sucking air, both of us looked at each other for a few moments and it was Roger who spoke first.
"You know for a minute there I was ready to make a break for the house and call the fire department".
"Yeah", I answered. "For a minute there I was going to make a break for the car and head to the Virginia border".
"Why is that?"
"Hell, we are in North Carolina and I hear that they are not partial at all to arsonists".
To cover our misdoings we got some leftover barley from the barn and scattered it over the burned out area so no one would know the better.
Needless to say, we did secure another case of beer to help steady our nerves.
To this day, I always wanted to know what it would have looked like for someone driving down that lonely road that went by the farm while we were crazily stomping around that hill putting out the fire. For all I know, someone may have driven by and stopped and watched for a moment or two.
What would they have thought?
Being that we were in the Bible belt I can only imagine that it must have looked like some satanic ritual. Maybe if someone saw it, they would have declared they saw the devil and that it was a sign. A sign that they should spend a hell of a lot more time in church and try leading a more productive life, unlike the lives that Roger and I had been leading.
If that was the case, then I guess we can be credited for at least saving one soul.