A few months ago my husband, Earl, reminisced about his adventures while shooting rockets when he and his brother were children. As Earl’s birthday drew closer, he began digging deeper into his childhood, and started complaining about getting old.
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His complaints made me determined to take him back to his childhood. On the day of his birthday we went out to dinner and I carried in a huge wrapped box. When Earl asked me what it was, I hinted it was "a blast from your past". Then there was the corny poem I wrote (cat in the hat style) that referenced a rocket.
"I am detecting a theme here," Earl decided.
"Huh?," I responded stupidly. "What theme?"
"BLAST from the past, and Rocket," replied Earl.
"Oh the poem? I needed a word that rhymed with pocket. You know the cat in the hat rhymes are the rage this year." I rationalized.
And then I shut my mouth.
When Earl opened his present, he looked a bit confused, but pleased too. I then explained my rationale for buying him a rocket and he laughed. He was astonished that I remembered our conversation.
The day of Earl's birthday was cold, rainy and windy so the rocket launch was postponed. After a few days of dreary weather, the sun popped out on mild day with a slight breeze.
Yes! Perfect weather for a rocket launch!
At 12 noon Earl began the process of assembling the rocket. This meant becoming the persona of a geek scientist/professor engrossed in his latest calculations, complete with mad scientist hair sticking up all over the place. Finally at 2:30 Earl proudly announced he was finished with his creation.
We decided to go over to Sparkman Middle School and shoot the rocket off. So all the assembled parts were bundled into the trunk of the car and off Earl, Buddy our dog and I went.
Earl parked the car over near the football field in the grass.
"Earl, are you sure you want to park here? The ground is pretty wet," I warned. Translation: the grass may be dry at the top, but this is very slick, wet, red clay showing under that clumpy grass.
His mind on the rocket shoot, Earl was not to be deterred from his parking spot. So out of the car we bounded. Earl grabbed up his rocket and launcher and dashed toward the bridge which lead to the field. The dog danced around, then strained to follow Earl. Earl slipped once on the wet wooden bridge, but luckily did not fall. I don't know what he would have done if he had dropped his rocket!
I, of course, was more cautious in my footing. Or as cautious as I could be with an eager dog dragging me around at the end of a leash. Buddy seemed as excited about that rocket as Earl was because the dog kept straining to get to it.
To the north of the football field there is a pretty good-sized pond. The school is to the east. To the south of the football field there is a street and across the street there is fenced pasture.
There was a tiny breeze coming out of the north across the pond to us so we decided that near the north side was a good place to shoot the rocket. The logic was that when the breeze floated the rocket parts back down, they would land on the south side of the football field.
While we were discussing the logistics of this momentous rocket shoot, Buddy kept lunging at the rocket. Little alarm bells began going off in the back of my head. Wasn't there something about Buddy and anything with gunpowder? Didn't this rocket have gunpowder in it? But with so much activity going on, there was too much physical stimulus for my brain to strongly register the mental warnings.
Talk rationally with Earl.
Hold the dog back from the rocket.
Stand up right; don't slip on the slick ground.
Hold various rocket parts for Earl's setup.
Enjoy Earl's excitement.
I mean, I can't even chew gum and walk without biting my tongue!
And the next thing I know, Earl is saying, “Get back.”
As we back away, Buddy quiets down but is staring very alertly at the rocket.
"5...4...3...2...1...ignition" we hollar.
"PHSSST!" howls the rockets, the dog barks wildly, lunging at the rocket as the rocket takes off. Earl's yelling in happiness. The dog is still madly barking and jumps 5 times his height trying to reach that rocket. Up, up the rocket flies. And suddenly it breaks apart into 3 pieces.
Now Earl is jumping up and down yelling in excitement to "watch where the parts land!". And the dog lands from a jump, realizes the pieces are coming down and lunges off after the nearest piece's downward trajectory.
I finally hit a good strong patch of the clumpy grass, gain some leverage and yank the dog to a stop just short of having the prize between his teeth. It finally sinks in that Earl is running madly for the south end of the football field. I look up and over.
There goes the little parachutist man from the rocket, sailing off over the entire field, over the street and 3/4 the ways into the cow pasture.
I could almost here the little toy guy screaming, "Houston, we have a problem. Houston, HOUSTON!" Then, "OH MY GOD! NOT THE COW PASTURE! SOMEBODY HELP ME!"
Earl and I had a moment of silence for the poor little guy. Then we shot the rocket up again. After the second launch, we decided that we should see if the parachutist could be saved. So we walked across the street and stared into the cow pasture.
"Do you know where he landed?" I asked Earl.
"I think so," he said. "He's over near that tree." The only tree I saw was over at the END of this 20-30 acre pasture. I could tell Earl wanted his parachutist back, though.
"Go and rescue him, Earl," I urge. "What's the owner going to do? Tell you to leave?"
We both looked over the empty field. After a moment's hesitation, Earl decided to go on the rescue mission. So over the fence he climbed.
"Be careful, honey!" I warned him, as if that would make a difference.
By the time Earl was a quarter the way into the field I realized how stupid I was. This is Alabama! It seems as if everyone here has at least one rifle.
"Oh My God! Please let the farmer be somewhere else today," I prayed.
Earl got halfway across the field when we heard a strange dog start barking. Earl stopped walking. Buddy whined then, straining to go after Earl. Luckily, the strange dog was leashed. The only thing I could think to do if he weren't leashed was to let Buddy go to Earl. After a moment, Earl started walking further across the field again.
It was then I noticed that Earl was walking very funny. Have you ever seen a drunken sailor tiptoe like a ballerina? I haven't either, but Earl was doing a very good imitation of one, and was rolling from side to side while on tiptoes. Occasionally his arms would windmill as if to catch his balance. Three quarters the way across the field, Earl finally turned around to
look back at me. I waved for him to come back. Earl made some obscure hand waving motions, then continued his drunken sailor doing a ballerina imitation over toward the side of the field.
"Where the heck is he going now?" I wondered.
By this time I couldn't decide whether I should be worried there were poppies in the field (ala Wizard Of Oz), or just to laugh in hysteria at his antics. Then Earl bent over, picked up the parachutist, straightened up and waved him triumphantly in the air.
As Earl came back toward me, I couldn't stop laughing. When he got close enough to the fence to hear me, I gasped, " What the heck were you doing? You were walking pretty darn funny!"
"It was a mine field out there!" he exclaimed. "There was so much crap laying in the field that it was difficult to find a place to step!"
After Earl climbed back over the fence he received a hero's welcome kiss for his valiant rescue.
"That was a fun adventure," Earl said. "It was one of my most fun birthdays ever."
As if to prove his point, our car easily made the transition from the wet clay onto the road. We went home laughing over the day's adventures, unscathed and exhilarated.
I guess Earl isn't quite as old as he was afraid he was.