The Timer Fuse (Or, Why did I Even DO that?)
James R. Aist
This true story took place when I was about 12 years old and living in Evening Shade, a small town in rural, north-central Arkansas. At that time, Evening shade had a population of 315, so everybody knew almost everyone else in town, and most everyone knew that Daddy was the minister at the local Methodist Church. That meant that I was trying very hard to stay out of trouble, so as not to embarrass Daddy and bring scandal down on the preacher’s family. Not to mention the fact, of course, that I didn’t want to embarrass myself; I was quite self-conscious.
Back then, at least in Arkansas, we had three full months of summer vacation from school. That was plenty of time to get bored and feel driven to do something interesting, or even exciting. Fireworks were legal, and they helped liven things up, especially in July. I had picked up a few firecracker tricks from some of my buddies, so one afternoon I reckoned it wouldn’t cause any harm to try to wake up sleepy little Evening Shade and get a giggle or two out of it for myself. Now, the key to this little prank was to make a homemade fuse that would produce a delayed explosion of the firecracker, a “timer fuse” as it were, and then insert one end of the timer fuse into the free end of the fuse of a firecracker. As it turns out, the perfect, convenient raw material for a timer fuse is thin, white, cotton string. When you light the end of the string with a match and then blow out the flame, the string will continue to smolder and burn shorter and shorter, much like a lighted cigarette left sitting in an ashtray. So, I did some test runs to determine how long the string needed to be to give about a two-minute delay, just long enough for me to make my getaway and appear completely innocent if there was an unexpected “incident.”
The action plan was to hide my materials and supplies (firecrackers, string cut to length, and safety matches) in my pockets, mosey innocently down to the center of town (about one block), stop at the big maple tree next to the telephone operator’s house on the left, you know, the tree with a huge hole, about waste high, that was facing the sidewalk. Then, I would turn and face the big hole in the tree, reach in and assemble the “bomb” inside the hole so that no one could see what I was doing, light the timer fuse, turn back toward home and mosey innocently up the hill, waiting to see if anyone would be startled by the “bang” so I could and watch (i.e., be entertained by) their reaction. I was more than a little nervous and apprehensive about this practical joke, because this kind of behavior wasn’t really like me, and because I didn’t want to cause Daddy (and me) any embarrassment should I got caught in the act.
That afternoon the town was especially quiet and almost devoid of traffic and pedestrians, a perfect setting for my plot, or so I thought. Everything went just as planned, and as I walked up the hill, I began feeling rather proud of myself for pulling off such a clever prank. Every so often I would take a quick look back to see if there was someone near or approaching the tree, because if they were too close, they might get hurt. The more I thought about that the more I became filled with the fear of causing an accident. I soon slipped into a panic mode, shaking and sweating and filled with angst (that’s not what we called it back then, but you know what I mean). Then, I began to wish that I had not set this plan in motion at all, and wondering if there was time for me to mosey on back to the tree and abort the mission, leaving no one the wiser. But, alas, I was almost two minutes away from a tree with a lit, two-minute time fuse in it. You do the math.
Suddenly I heard a loud “bang” and looked back to see a small cloud of smoke wafting out of the hole in the tree. Did anyone hear it; did anyone panic; did anyone lose control of their car and strike an innocent bystander? Why did I DO this?! Well, wouldn’t you know it, as it turned out the joke was on me: No one was there, not one pedestrian, not one car and not even one alarmed citizen rushing outside to see what had caused the explosion. Evening Shade really was asleep!
I was at once relieved and disappointed that no one was startled by my escapade. And, I was apparently the only one who even knew that anything unusual had happened on that lazy, summer afternoon in Evening Shade. But, I had managed to entertain myself for a while without embarrassing Daddy, so…mission accomplished.
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