I never believed that writing about four boys, growing up during, and post-WWII, without a father, would prove to be some of the favourite stories among my readers.
This fourth installment (of three small stories), is unfortunately, the last one, as I do not recall enough of any other misadventures my father relayed to me.
This first story occurred after WWII.
Danny, (my father), and his brothers, grew up on the north-side of town, often referred to a a rough and tumble neighbourhood.
“The North-Side” was comprised of most of the steel foundries, which were converted to make parts for the war effort, but now were making castings and parts for the automotive and farming vehicle industries.
Howard, Danny’s second-eldest brother, could not find work in the steel mills because he was too young (16), but he did manage to get a job at a major brand pop-bottling plant.
Now, many of the young men that Howard worked with were braggarts: able to smoke, drink and “keep company with the girls;” and teased Howard because he a just a little boy.
To prove that he wasn’t a little boy, Howard brought a small, blank (unpainted) pop can to work the next day. His co-workers were curious to what it was. Howard told them that they would have to wait until lunch break to find out.
Lunch break arrived, and half the bottling plant emptied into the parking lot behind the one-story building to see what Howard’s little tin can would do.
After pulling the tab open, Howard lit a wooden matchstick, stood it in the opening and ran towards the crowd of his co-workers.
And they waited.
In less then a minute the can started to erupt in a rush of grey-white smoke similar to a fire extinguisher. The smoke got a little greyer followed by a very, loud BANG!
All the vehicles in the parking lot had shattered windshields; and every window in the bottling plant also shattered.
Across the street, “Wellington House,” a mens-only tavern that was adorned in 3foot-by-3foot blue slate tiles, lost all their windows –including both doors — and all but two of their imported blue tiles!
My Uncle Howard was trying to impress everyone with his knowledge of making a smoke bomb. Unfortunately, he put too much of one ingredient in it, causing it to bang louder instead of emit more smoke.
He was fired immediately.
This story happened shortly after WWII ended.
Howard had learned to make smoke bombs from his older brother Frank, who had been making them three years longer than Howard — and with more success.
When Frank learned that his two youngest brothers, Jack and Danny, had been picked up by the police for mischief for setting a field of long, wild grasses on fire upon the mountain escarpment, near the airport, he went to rescue them.
With an identical, unpainted pop tin, Frank walked to the police station. On arriving, he went towards the back of the building, where the small, casement windows used in basements were located at the bottom of the foundation, adjacent to the sidewalk. The windows were covered with grid-iron bars to prevent suspects from escaping, but the gap between the bars was small enough to drop a pop can into.
Pulling the tab open, and dropping a lit matchstick into it, Frank waited for the can to start smoking before dropping into the open window. Then rushing across the street to the parking lot, he watched the show.
The casement window billowed with smoke that got darker and darker. Screaming civilians and uniformed officers scrambled out of the building within two minutes! A minute later, Jack and Danny rushed out, and Frank whistled.
As fire truck sirens blared up the one-way street, the three brothers scrambled home.
Once home, Frank asked what the boys what they did to get nabbed by the cops.
“Danny had an accident,” Jack answered. “He was shooting enemy planes down in flames and one of the stupid things caught the field on fire!”
“You helped!” my father quipped.
A day later, Gramma Emily was reading the local paper. The front page headlined a wildfire that started in an abandoned field; the same field that was meant for a later expansion of the airport. Police were investigating.
A couple pages in, her eye caught a smaller article describing a mysterious, thick smoke that began in the basement of the local police headquarters and drifted through the entire building. No one was injured but —
Before she could finish reading the second story, there was a loud rap at the door. Odd, she thought, she was not expecting company at this late hour (after dinner).
Opening the door, she found two uniformed policmen!
“Good evening, Mrs. H,” the senior officer greeted her, tipping his hat. “Are ALL your boys at home?”
This last story happened approximately seven years after the one above.
Danny, being the youngest of the boys, wanted to make a smoke bomb of his own, without any help from his brothers.
Writing all the ingredients (a total three) on a piece of paper, he went to a drugstore across town. Looking about, he couldn’t find anything on the store shelves.
So, he politely asked the pharmacist for some help. The gentleman asked for the list, and the boy innocently gave it to him. The druggist eyed the list and then my father.
“I’m sorry, my boy,” he said handing back the list, suppressing a smile, “I cannot give you these items, because mixing them together will cause a wee bit of trouble for you. Off you go, now!”
Disappointed, Danny went home and griped to Frank.
“You went to one drugstore?” he asked, “To get everything?”
My father nodded, sadly.
“Why do you think we went to two stores? So nobody would catch on, Dum-Dum!”
[So much for my father’s career in pyro-technics.].