Category Archives: Growing Up

Mr. Hubwumpus

My dad had a story he told to us kids, one which I will always remember and have tried to pass on to my own kids and grandkids. And that is the story of Mr. Hubwumpus. I don’t know where MB got it; perhaps from his own father or mother. He first told it to me when I was around five. I can distinctly remember the settings, which was at my grandmother’s house one evening not long after my mother married MB.

Mr. Hubwumpus was a strange animal indeed. He was a dragon of sorts. He was green and had scales for skin, and he breathed fire and smoke like a dragon. His most unusual feature was that he had a light on the end of his tail and eyes on the back of his head. In a weird kind of logic, the light on his tail and eyes on the back of his head were there because, as MB put it, “He needed to see where he has been.”

No, I can’t make any sense of it either, not now and not when I was five. Light on his tail? Eyes on the back of his head to see where he’s been…? It’ll give you a headache.

About the time I turned fourteen my mother decided she was going to turn the tale of Mr. Hubwumpus into a children’s book and get rich while confusing kids all over the world with the tail light/eyes on the back of his head to see where he’s been brain teaser of an animal. I had some artistic ability, which I eventually turned into a profession designing ads and packages for some large international brands. I got this talent from my mother. Interestingly, she studied art at Southwestern Louisiana Institute in Lafayette, Louisiana, in 1941, later dropping out of school when the war started. I studied advertising design there in 1964 when it was called the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette). The director of the art department was a Dr. Robertson. When I met him, I asked if he remembered my mother and he said he did.

Back to my story.

My mother decided I needed to illustrate the story, which she would write. Since the story of Mr. Hubwumpus had never gotten past a description of this creature in its early tellings, she had to invent a tale for the book, which ended up being along the lines of Mr. Hubwumpus had something of an identity crisis over his frightening appearance but wanted to make friends with a “people”, which turned out to be little Jimmy. But Jimmy’s mother saw them together told her son he must have nothing to do with that horrible looking monster. That was not good for Mr. Hubwumpus’ ego, and he retreated away from “people” back into the swamp. Jimmy ran away in search of his friend and fell into quicksand, and Mr. Hubwumpus came to save him. He huffed and puffed and breathed fire, which made his tail longer and its light brighter so Timmy could be pulled from the quicksand. All this was witnessed by the townspeople—you know the type: those holding the pitchforks and torches. And seeing the evil-looking Mr. Hubwumpus save Jimmy…well. (This is Copyrighted, BTW.) I just reread the manuscript, and the story is actually quite charming.

Meanwhile, my friends wanted to know what was taking up so much of my playtime. Being sworn to secrecy by my mother, I had to reply. “It’s Top Secret. I can’t tell you.”

Well, I ran into one of my old childhood buddies recently. That would be Lebo Centanni. Hadn’t seen him since we were kids in Kenner except very briefly in 1972 in Anchorage, Alaska when I was getting out of the Air Force, and Lee was flying C-130s out of Elmendorf AFB. Evidently, poor Lebo had been consumed by this top secret thing ever since we were kids and now some sixty years later he asks me, “Lane, I have to know. Back when we were kids you were working on this ‘Top Secret’ project with your mother. What in the hell was it?”

Wow! Sixty years and not knowing about Mr. Hubwumpus has been eating Lebo up all that time. For a brief moment, I considered stringing poor, eaten-up Lebo along and saying it was still “classified” but decided to finally spill the beans about Mr. Hubwumpus.

I think he was disappointed, but at least he can sleep at night now.

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Chewing Tobacco

Janis’ family, on her mother’s side, comes from Oxford, Mississippi. There is a world of difference between New Orleans and Oxford. That is one reason I enjoy our rare visits there.  Not many of her relations are left in Oxford, only her Uncle Dick (but his real name is Pat) and two of his kids remain. Others are either deceased or scattered across the US.

Dick is an absolute pleasure to be around. He has an outgoing personality and was born with a smile on his lips and an interesting story ready to tell. I have figured out what makes his story-telling so funny. It is really quite simple: He enjoys telling them so much he is grinning and laughing the whole while he tells the tale.

Dick mostly built houses with a few commercial buildings thrown in for good measure. He is 90 now but still spry and still builds things, albeit mostly much smaller projects like remodeling jobs for one of his kid’s homes.

It seems to be a tradition in Oxford for Dick (and his dad before him) to take what I call “tours” and show guests around to see the “wonders” of Oxford, MS, which, in Dick’s case, were the houses he built, including for some rather famous Oxford residents.

We were stopped and admiring one of Dick’s buildings, and he pulled out his pouch of tobacco and took a pinch for himself and offered the pouch to me. I have smoked cigarettes and a few cigars in my distant past but had never tried chewing tobacco. So out of curiosity, I took the offered pouch and retrieved a pinch and popped it into my mouth.

What followed was not expected. About the time I got it all situated over on the side of my mouth, my taste buds suddenly discovered its foreign presence and screamed, “FIRE! FIRE! QUICK, WE NEED SPIT TO PUT IT OUT! LOTS OF SPIT! SPIT! STAT!”

My mouth immediately filled up with spit, like fire-hose-wide-open full of spit! Good thing we weren’t moving, because I couldn’t get the car door open quick enough to rid myself of it. My mouth was so full my cheeks looked like a chipmunk hoarding a year’s supply of nuts. By the time I got the door open, tobacco-brown spit was already oozing uncontrollably from the corners of my mouth with a volcano-like eruption imminent.

BLAH! But that didn’t end the fire response from my taste buds. They continued to call for more spit to squelch the flames.

After a few minutes of me violently clearing my mouth and with tobacco juice running down my chin, I turned to Dick, who, by the way, was laughing, and  I said, “That is the last time I’ll do that.”

The pic above is of Uncle Dick taken only a few years ago.

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Cherry Bounce Update #1

I wrote of my Cherry Bounce experiment where I am attempting to reproduce my father’s recipe here. Not having his original recipe, I used a modified version of a recipe attributed to Martha Washington.

What I did not mention in that post is I later added a second experiment using an old recipe from a friend’s French mother, although slightly modified to accommodate my available supplies. I will call that one my Roy Recipe in honor of Mrs. Roy. She used wild cherries from her own yard. Not having a cherry tree in my backyard, I used dried, tart, pie cherries. Her recipe called for vodka instead of whiskey or brandy and not cooking the mash. So I have two jars set aside to rest for three months.

Well, I couldn’t wait any longer. I know, it has been slightly less than two weeks, but I had to taste them.

I could drink them now, and probably will next week for Christmas. The Martha Washington recipe with the cooked mash and Sazerac Rye whiskey is rich in flavors and complex, much of which comes from the rye whiskey. The Roy Recipe is less complex due to the vodka but is still quite good. Without the MW version to compare to, you would like it a lot. But I think I much prefer the more complex Martha Washington version. I’m pretty sure that one or a version of it will be the basis of my next and larger batch I’ll make after Christmas.

I will allow others to taste both at Christmas and let you know what comes out of that.

Cheers.

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“You going to wear that?”

I used to consider myself a pretty good dresser. (Note the past tense.) As finances allowed, I stayed up with the styles, especially when younger. While in school, we young men were careful not to make any fashion faux pas that might hurt our chances with the ladies. We would exchange the latest fashion trends amongst ourselves. (Surprised, ladies?)

I worked in a men’s store part-time while in college and learned many things about the proper gentlemanly dress from another salesman who was a VERY dapper dresser, and the women absolutely loved him. From that experience, I learned about proper trouser length, how much cuff should show from under the sleeves of your coat, proper color matching, NEVER mix patterns (which seems to be de rigueur these days, go figure), and other sundry dressing codes for young men.

This carried forward even into my military service. My uniforms were always starched with creases sharp enough to cut thick-skinned tomatoes into paper-thin slices. My sense of style even got me into trouble when I tapered my trousers. My CO obviously wasn’t as fashion conscious as I was, and he made me take the taper out.

Even though my business life after the service, I was required to wear suits to work and I even enjoyed it. As the years passed, the dress codes relaxed to allow just trousers and a nice shirt—but no jeans. Then dress-down Friday came along, and “nice” jeans were allowed. As I neared retirement, even jeans became acceptable every day. Ah, the times they were a-changin’. But that excluded wives.

Eventually, every married male will, at some time, hear that fear-inducing question from their spouse concerning whatever it is they have on when about to head out for the night’s festivities. It comes in three versions, representing ascending levels of both distaste and threats should the offensive behavior continue. Whatever the level of distaste expressed, they all come at that moment when the spouse steps out of the bathroom fully dressed to the nines and encounters innocent you standing there buttoning the last button on your shirt or tidying up the knot of your tie. Let me expand on this below.

Threat Level 1 – She steps forth from the bathroom and finds you standing there. She stops in her tracks. One eyebrow goes up and the other goes down in a questioning glare that begins at your feet and slowly makes its way up to the top of your head. The innocent (clueless) you look like a deer caught in the headlights of a car that is a half a second away from the impact. You very stupidly say, “What?”

Here it comes. In a tone that suggests only mild disagreement with your fashion choices, she casually tosses out (like a hand grenade), “You going to wear that?”

Gentlemen, let me clearly state that “yes” is the wrong answer. Don’t waste your time arguing. Whatever you have on must be changed immediately.

Threat Level 2 – Same scenario as above, but this time that question is asked just a bit differently. It comes out as, “You going to wear THAT?” Note the very strong emphasis on “that.”

Gentlemen, a “yes” answer will mean being sent to the couch for at least three nights. Don’t even think of going there, but tuck your tail and find something to wear that she approves of.

Threat Level 3 – Same scenario but this time the question becomes a command, “You are NOT going to wear THAT!”

Gentlemen, a “yes” reply here will ultimately involve lawyers and cost you lots of money—assuming you survive the night. Save yourself some grief and just let her pick something out, put it on, and shut up.

I don’t know what happened to our sense of fashion between our early years and retirement, but we obviously lost it along the way. At least, that’s what my wife tells me whenever I attempt to dress for some social event.

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My TIVO is Possessed by the Devil – Part 2

I wrote here about how I thought my TIVO might be possessed by the Devil because I was unable to delete a recorded movie, named ironically Devil in the Blue Dress. Well, God “exorcised” the problem. We had an electrical storm that knocked out power the other night, and that caused the TIVO to reset. And da Devil is done gone! Hallelujah!

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My Tivo Is Possessed by the Devil!

I cut the cable some months ago, or more accurately, I broke the dish and got rid of satellite. In its place I got a very nice antenna which picks up about 40 stations, maybe 20 of which come in clear and I am interested in watching. I also bought a Tivo Roamio OTA DVR which records over-the-air (OTA) channels and accesses apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime among others. OK, now that you have the background here is the problem.

Janis recorded a movie recently off one of the OTA channels. It turns out to have been appropriately named Devil in a Blue Dress, starring Denzel Washington. I never watched it, and Janis got about ten minutes into it and decided it wasn’t for her, so she deleted it—or more accurately, tried to delete it. My Tivo disagreed with her decision to delete the movie and refused to do so. None of the usual methods of deleting something recorded on the Tivo has worked. It pretends to delete the movie, but it always comes back! I can delete other recordings, but not the Devil!

It gets worse. Janis called me in to see if I would have any better luck. Nope. After several and various attempts, the Devil would not go away. I decided to let it rest and try the next day as if that might make a difference. It didn’t. Repeated attempts to delete it failed. Each time I deleted it, the Tivo puts an “X” beside its name in the guide, pretending that it is about to delete it—and then deletes the “X” and puts the blue dot back—and, of course, the Devil in a Blue Dress is still there!

And—it gets even spookier. Forgetting my recent failure with the Sync Witch in my truck, I was determined that I was not going to let some stupid electrical device outsmart me. So I devised a very clever plan to delete the movie. There is a delete option I had not yet tried. You can set the Tivo to delete a recording on a certain date in the future. “That’s it!” I said in my eureka moment. With a sneering cackle, I set the Devil to delete in two days, August 12.

Two days later I checked and the Devil was still there—AND he had reset my delete date to August 14! “This is some crazy fluke,” I muttered and reset the delete date to August 16.

Well, it is August 17 as I write this, and the Devil in a Blue Dress IS STILL THERE and has reset my delete date to August 18!

I have no illusions that it will actually delete on that date. Once more I have been beaten by artificial intelligence. As a society, we are doomed. The movie “Terminator” was prophetic.

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Conversations With My Truck – Part 2

Well, it happened again. All I wanted was to play my music on my iPhone through my truck’s audio system. That should be as simple as pressing a button, and the “Sync Lady” replies with “Please say a command.” I reply with “Bluetooth audio”, and she plays my iPhone music for me. Sometimes she gets confused and asks me if I really said “Bluetooth Audio?”

“Yeesss.”

But this time she didn’t play any music – silence. So, I press the button on my steering wheel again, and she replies, “Please say a command”. To which I reply, “Resume play”, which usually wakes her up and she plays my music. That didn’t work. Again silence. Button again and this time, assuming she is hard of hearing, I yell, “RESUME PLAY!”

She must have been offended by my tone because I think I could detect a bit of irritation in her voice when she replied she didn’t understand me and I should repeat my command. We go through the button, command process once more, and she is still playing dumb and claiming she doesn’t understand me. And I am becoming irritated—really irritated!

I called her the “Sync Lady” above, but at this point, I am using a different name for her, and it rhymes with “Sync Witch”.

Button once more and she replies, and this time I am sure her tone was sarcastic, “Please say a command.”

OK. At this point, I lost it and replied with language that was unbecoming of a gentleman. Yes, that included profanity—lots of it, in fact—and expressed very loudly. There might also have been some fist shaking and flying spittle—I don’t recall all the details.

Defeated, I pushed the “CD” button on my radio and contented myself to listening to my Pink Floyd CD, over which I still had some level of control.

At that point, I’m sure I heard a soft but sadistic cackle come from HER!

 

UPDATE: It seems I am not the only one having these voice recognition problems.

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Memorial Day 2017

This one is kind of special. The reason why is that twenty-one-year-old young man in the photo, the one in the white shirt holding up his right hand. That is Blake Casteix, my grandson. That was Tuesday when he was in the process of swearing to “defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic”. He is now at Lackland AFB in San Antonio, Texas, for Air Force basic training. That will be followed by tech school at Keesler AFB in Biloxi, Mississippi, where he will be trained in cyber security. Sounds like a career field he can use when he gets out, assuming he doesn’t make a career of the Air Force.

His dad was also in the Air Force, where he learned a trade, one he is using today, as a civilian, to make a good living with his own business. Everyone thinks you must go to college to be successful and make the big bucks. Ain’t so. There are many career fields in the military where a young man or woman can learn a trade and make a good living at it afterward—or even use it as a springboard to attend college on the GI Bill. Sadly, not many young people are willing to do that. Instead, they whine about not having any opportunities. I am calling Bravo Sierra on that. If you want it, there are ways to get it, but you might have to work for it instead of having it handed to you.

I was also in the Air Force but after I graduated from college. I had my college handed to me by my parents. It took the Air Force to gave me maturity I did not get in college. There I learned to do my job in a way that reflected on the fact that someone’s life might depend on how well I did it. For that reason, I believe in universal military service. Unfortunately, that would open the military up to having a lot of people that will never “get it” and never appreciate what it can give them. And maybe it is better if it isn’t that way.

This Memorial Day I salute Blake Casteix and all those who have written that check out to the United States of America for payment “up to and including my life”.

The complete Oath of Enlistment –

“I, _____, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God.”

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Boy Scouts in Kenner

boy-scoutMost of my friends were in the Boy Scouts when I was a kid. Henry Legasse was the Scout Master when I joined, and that position was later taken over by Mr. Hansen and Mr. Carter.

We joined when we turned 11 and some of us were even in the Cub Scouts prior to joining the Boy Scouts. I joined because I liked the outdoors, and the Boy Scouts were all about the outdoors, plus I was into uniforms then, especially if they looked military. (I played army a lot.)

Boys like to go camping, and the troop had a supply of WWII pup tents, also known as “shelter halves” because two halves were put together to make one tent. We used these tents only once as I recall. Our Scout leaders, most having recently served in WWII, had had their fill of camping and anything remotely related to the Army. And pup tents and sleeping on the cold ground certainly fit that bill.

Instead, they took us places where there were cabins and real (alleged) beds, like Camp Salmon and Fountainbleu State Park group camps. The latter was probably a bit emotionally triggering for them because the buildings we stayed in were surplus Army barracks. But they had a roof instead of pup tent canvass and real beds with alleged mattresses.

Manard Lagasse was not what I would call a “momma’s boy” but every “camping trip” we went on, he puked all the first night and had to be taken home the next day by his dad. Frankly, the rest of us were glad, because it was hard to sleep and listen to Manard’s “Oommmoooogggg!” followed by liquid hitting the floor.

We played games and worked on merit badges on these trips, and learned Army stuff, like: fall in, ah-tennn-HUT, count off, parade rest, and other nifty things that would come in handy less than ten years later when many of us went into the military.

On one trip to Fountainbleu, we begged our adult leaders to take us on a hike. They weren’t into hiking either, having recently hiked all over North Africa, Italy, and Europe. They decided to break us of that desire and took us on what more resembled some sort of death march rather than the leisurely stroll we had in mind. They took us into a swamp—into muck up to our knees—and we could barely move forward—and they urged us on deeper into the swamp, and some of us lost our shoes. When we came out, we were covered with stinking swamp mud, and we never asked for a hike again. And I don’t recall them ever offering to take us on one, either.

Once when we were on a winter campout at Camp Salmon in the little buildings with (alleged) real beds, we had a giant pillow fight, which, unfortunately, went badly. At least one of the pillows quite literally exploded, resulting in a blizzard of chicken feathers. That was a mess to clean up!

One of our favorite games was “infiltration” which we always played at summer camp at Camp Salmon. The objective was for all the scouts, under the cover of darkness, to sneak up on the campfire area along the bayou. Success was just about impossible without taking out a few of the camp counselors, but cutting throats was not then allowed. The scouts would blacken their faces with charcoal, dress in dark clothing, and crawl around in the woods infested with briars, snakes, spiders, ticks, and red bugs and attempt to sneak up on the campfire ring. We actually believed we had a chance of succeeding. I don’t recall anyone ever succeeding.

At summer camp, they were very strict about littering. They even had a rule about it. If you bought any candy at the little camp “trading post” and tossed the wrapper on the ground, whoever picked it up could charge you, and you had to buy them the same thing. It is amazing how many kids toss their candy wrappers on the ground. Some of us (punks) saw potential in this and formed a “vigilante” group. We hung around the “trading post,” and when we saw some kid eating candy, we followed him until he dropped the wrapper—and we pounced. I gained weight that year at camp. Yes, I know. I’m ashamed of myself. But hey, they needed to learn a life lesson about littering.

The last night of summer camp at Camp Salmon was the big campfire when we sang Kumbaya, did skits, and received awards. We would dress as Indians, and the costumes were pretty lame. We used towels as loincloths held on by our scout belts. Having that wad between your legs was pretty uncomfortable, and I don’t recall anyone taking a shower after that.

There was a priest there who somehow managed to attach himself to our troop. He was from some foreign country and spoke broken English. When he saw us dressed as Indians, he flipped out. I think the “skimpy” towel loincloths did it. We tried to reassure him we were pretending to be Indians just for the night. His reply was a pleading, “NO! Christians!” We went in our crotch-irritating loincloth towels anyway. He remained behind prayed for our lost souls.

And I must not forget the meals on these camping trips. Almost always we had access to a kitchen and lots of surplus Army aluminum pots, but every once in a while we got to actually cook our own meals over an open fire. That usually meant foil stew. Done right, foil stew can be very good. You simply make a pouch out of two layers of aluminum foil and place in it chopped potatoes, carrots, onions, bell pepper, and some kind of meat cubed up. Throw in a little seasoning and a dash of water, seal the open end well and toss that puppy onto a bed of hot coals and scrape a few on top. Cook it for about 20 minutes. Retrieve from the fire and split open the foil and enjoy. Later in life, we would make foil stew on hunting trip camp outs, only being older and wiser then, we used steak instead of the cheap of meat cut our parents gave us as kids and substituted beer for the water. Yuumm! And no pots to wash!

The weekly meetings at the Kenner VFW Hall were always the high point of my week. I really looked forward to them and getting together with kids I saw only then. We worked on merit badges and different scout projects. I never did learn Morris Code, however. The biggest event was the “Court of Honor” when we received our merit badges and promotions to the next level of scouting. It was all rather formal with everyone in uniform with candles glowing softly as the ceremonies played out. We scouts received our new uniform decoration and our proud parents stood by smiling and applauding.

Those were some good times.

I encourage readers, especially former members of Troop 176 in Kenner, to post their experiences in the comments section below.

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The BIG Bang

Two holidays (besides Christmas) hold great interest to us kids growing up. I am referring to July 4 and New Year. Bet ya can’t guess why?

“Fireworks,” you say?

Good guess. Explosive devices have magical charms for boys and probably a few girls, also. Nothing is more satisfying than a big bang and something being blown to smithereens. Yes, our parents allowed us to play with fireworks—unsupervised. Of course, prior to being released to go wreak havoc on the world, we got the usual lectures about the safe handling of fireworks followed by periodic reminders of their dangers via scare stories of some kid getting his fingers blown off. That barely slowed us down.

As kids we only had access to the usual over-the-counter verity of fireworks—oh but what fireworks they were. What you buy today pales in comparison to what we could get back in the fifties. I refer of course to the infamous, finger-removing M-80.

m-80

The M-80 was originally used by the military to simulate artillery fire (no. really its true), thus were way more potent than the run-of-the-mill Black Cat firecracker or even the more potent “Cherry bomb” or the similar in appearance “Silver King.” The only thing the Silver King and the M-80 shared was that both were small tubes of black powder about ¾” in diameter and 1.5’ long with the green fuse sticking out of the middle. The Silver King was silver, naturally, and the M-80 was colored a danger red. That’s because it contained more powder—and would take your finger off. The M-80 was said to contain 3 grams of black powder.

Today’s M-80 is a weak sister to its older brother thanks to government regulations and is not as potent as an old Silver King. That is because modern fireworks are limited to 50 milligrams of powder versus 200 mg or more before. Our M-80s more closely resembled a quarter stick of dynamite in explosive power—at least it seemed so to us—and evidently, also to the government.

We used the M-80’s potent explosive potential to blast all sorts of things into next week. Favorite targets were red ant hills, but you needed to get far away from the blast area or risk getting showered with a lot of only temporarily stunned red ants. When they recover from the blast, they are REALLY mad.

Once we built a mortar in the Lagasse’s key lot. The tube/barrel was some kind of pipe we found that empty beer cans fit in nicely. We stuck one end into the dirt and propped it up point skyward at about a 45 degree angle and dropped in a lit M-80 followed by a beer can—and BOOM—that can was sent to the other end of the key lot and almost to Williams Street. That lasted until our “mortar tube” succumbed to the potency of the M-80 and was blown apart. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

No problem. What can we blow up next?

Remember the old kitchen trash cans with the pop-open lid that opened by stepping on a little pedal on the base? Remember the removable can liners used in them? They were heavy gauge steel then—and great M-80 projectiles. Out on Sixth Street we lit an M-80 and dropped the can on top and hauled butt. BAM—that can was sent up above the tree tops, with kids scrambling in every direction to avoid the can’s re-entry into the atmosphere. A few more attempts at attaining orbit, and the can was a mangled mess that no longer fit in its outer shell. Re-entries were hard on the can—not to mention lift-off.

One of us got to go onto the ultimate explosive devices. Buck joined the Army, and they put him in combat engineers. He got to play with some really cool stuff like C-4 and det cord, which was a handy and quick way to cut down a tree. But Buck also got to play with the ultimate explosive device—nuclear weapons. No, I’m not kidding. He was in “atomic demolitions and munitions.” Only he never got to “light the fuse” on one, which is probably a good thing. He was stationed in Germany and when the “flag went up,” their job was to assemble some small nukes and blow bridges with them. They REALLY wanted those bridges to come down, didn’t they?

The rest of us were left to be content with ever more anemic government version M-80s and lecturing our kids on the safe handling of fireworks with periodic reminders of their dangers via scare stories of some kid getting his fingers blown off. As if…

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