Rocket Boy August 2018
It began with notebook paper and Elmer’s white glue. No, really, it had begun in Texas years before. My brother, Chris, and I had access to all the firecrackers we wanted. There we loved to blow up things – toy soldiers, model boats floating in water, balsa airplanes with the little explosives strapped to their wings, lit and hand launched. Momma often said, “the fun stops when someone loses an eye.” Then we moved to Missouri.
We coated sheets of notebook paper with the white glue and rolled them into a tube. This week-long process of forming and drying the tubes was paralleled with stripping the Missouri-bought firecrackers and gathering the smidgeons of black powder they contained into a pile. A second glue/paper tube was assembled and that one was glued to the first. The black powder was poured into the lower tub after we lined it with aluminum foil. Then a coat hanger was straightened and re-bent into an L shape. Cardboard Wings were attached to the two tubes. When they were ready, one end of the coat hanger launching rail was inserted into the ground with the other pointing to the sky.
All of this had to be done when Momma was unconscious during her afternoon naps. We would hunker down by a wall of the walkout basement just underneath her second-story bedroom window. There we set up our mini-Cape Canaveral. Done right, a splendid launch went off with a shwoooosh, and the rocket went a few hundred feet, gliding back down into our yard or a neighbors, hopefully not catching anything on fire in the process. If we had been satisfied with these successful launchings, then nothing would have gone wrong. Like all engineers, we wanted more – more distance, higher altitude, and more shwoooosh.
So we made bigger and bigger tubes, and used more and more powder. Finally we packed the powder down into the aluminum foil and started adding a nozzle to the output side of the tube. Until that fateful day in late July when we were to launch the Big Bazoo. Momma was safely asleep, and we set up the Launch Pad below her window. Ignition was NOT followed by lift off. The Big Bazoo was instead followed by the Big BaBooooom. Chris and I pressed so hard into the wall that there were stucco marks on our skin. The curtains in Momma’s room opened above us as she peered out her window to look out at the medium-sized mushroom-shaped cloud which was just starting to drift across the yard. She never said a word, though like God on high she must have known that it had something to do with her two little engineers. We never found the coat hanger.
I like what Buckminster Fuller had to say about this sort of child raising. “It is the parents’ sole responsibility to give their child a just-safe-enough environment in which to learn about their universe.” Momma knew this intuitively, but she also prayed for her little knuckleheads. She knew that Christ had died for our sins, so who was she to judge us? Just like God, Momma loved us and accepted us for who we were.