Grover Thaxton’s store was already old when my mother’s generation was young. One Halloween long before I was born, my young mother and her pals Billie Jane and Sara Moyer sat with beers and friends in Grover’s kitchen, waiting for the annual attempt on Grover’s outhouse. “Here they come, Grover!” they whisper as they spied the hooligans creeping near.
They’d wait till the boys turned over the outhouse, and were running away, and then Grover would burst from the back door with his shotgun.
“You go**amned hooligans!” screamed Grover. He fired the shotgun over the boys heads, one barrell, then the other. It was actually loaded with rock salt, for safety, but Grover put on a great display. Terrified, the boys ran like hell.
Somewhere beyond the danger, they’d laugh and congratulate themselves. Back inside the kitchen, mom and Sara rolled on the floor with laughter. Grover was pounded on the back. Beers were opened. Every year, just the same.
“Thaxton Hardware” read the faded sign, across from the Methodist Church. I suppose once upon a time, farmers bought from this general store. The store hadn’t changed since that time. And, from one of the bins, any time of the year, we boys could buy firecrackers.
My grandmother’s front porch was about two feet above the ground, of poured concrete, with four brick and timber pillars which held the roof above. Looking out, to the right a huge Oak tree grew up from within the huge metal rim of a tractor wheel. Beyond, the wire fence to keep chickens, guineas, and coyotes out of the yard and the flower beds. And beyond, the land fell away to the creek and the wandering line of trees stretching as far as I could see.
I had firecrackers, and we boys were playing with matches. We’d light a fuse, throw the firecracker, and then thrill to the report. These were small firecrackers, woven into a package. I now know they were designed to be set off as a package, popping and jumping, but we didn’t know that. We unwove them and lit and threw them one by one.
I thought I’d scare my cousin Bobby, so I pulled a fuse off one of the firecrackers. I lit the fuse and threw it toward him. Reasonably, he panicked, and tried to roll away, but in his haste placed his hand upon the burning fuse and got a nasty gunpower burn. My trickery turned sour.
Scolded properly and with firecrackers confiscated, we boys lolled around the summer day. Evening drew closer. It was the habit of our elders that they brought us presents when they’d been away, and Uncle Esty and Aunt Rosemary were returning to reclaim Bobby and Danny. They brought fireworks.
In the dark, sparklers flashing sparks, we drew pictures in the night, spelled out words, ran like the wind with sparks trailing behind.
With roman candles, each took a turn holding the tube upright, with the colorful balls of fire blasting into the sky with a loud whooshing sound. One, then another, then two together, of red, yellow, green. Another and another and another.
And, best of all, the tiny rockets on a long red stick. Held upright by an empty Royal Crown bottle, the fuse lit by Uncle Esty, after a moment’s pause, up they soared, trailing a tail of fire, and then they burst with a clap of thunder, spreading a flower of soaring, colorful petals.
Year after year. Just like magic.