Those Brave, Brave Men.

Posted by admin on November 23, 2015 in Growing Up |

I don’t know what caused them to sign up for the duty they found themselves in. Some were called to action I guess, others “volunteered.” Still others were pressed into service against their will, from the ranks of other units in service.

When I was a kid, they were called to service daily, never knowing the danger they would face, whether they were lined up to fight for the plastic bridge in the middle of the playroom – the white toilet paper roll serving as the river they must forge – or waiting in line to be among the first to be propelled into the stratosphere aboard one of my many cardboard tube and Dixie cup rockets.

Even on Christmas Eve, 1962, the war continued with reinforcements poured in from the tree just beyond.

They were legion, they were many. Oh sure, we had the blues and the grays, the Civil War guys waiting patiently in the wings for a call that would never come. I had figured they had had enough, having to first fight every day against their brethren in arms, and then being unceremoniously buried in the makeshift cemetery under the large Douglas fir in the front yard.

I never felt too sorry for the blues and the grays. They weren’t my troops, but my brother Brian’s. Yes, their burials were my doing. It was the honorable thing to do, once they had been run over by Tonkas traveling the concrete highways and byways my father and I had built under the tree.

My soldiers were far more fortunate. They were treated fairly well. I knew this because of the expressions on their faces, always stoic and never changing, always ready to take on any assignment I handed them.

In winter, they scaled the endless wood ladders and platforms that climbed the brickwork of the living room fireplace. It could take all day, the sticks being pile-driven into the grouted spaces between each brick layer, spreading the entire length of the room.

Some, sadly, would fall to their untimely deaths in the battle, their bodies bouncing off the hearth as they fell to the carpet below. I can still hear that horrific sound of plastic striking brick. It still haunts my head.

In the playroom, their adventures multiplied. It was a large space to defend and the line of vehicles often spread along eight feet or more as they were staged along the playroom floor, into the back hallway. As the attack commenced, soldiers would rain from the skies above, parachuting into the battle. Well, only one or two would actually have parachutes, as my dad would quickly miss more of his church hankies that I had purloined from my his bedroom.

Thankfully, my imagination would allow them to parachute in over and over, their doppelgängers taking over for them as they hit the ground, occasionally blown behind enemy lines if the family box fan was available.

Of course, there were times where peace would prevail and the troops would be unceremoniously released from military duty.

Some were redeployed into my space program; others were asked to accept more perilous assignments, ones that could mean almost certain death.

Not that space exploration was a peace of cake. This was the 1960s. Rockets could blow up unexpectedly. You just lit the candle and crossed your fingers. Cognizant of this, I would always make sure that the hatch remained open during these launch attempts, for easy escape. And a Nylint fire pumper, attached to the garden hose, always stood at the ready on the pad.

I would spend hours grinding up the sparklers into a fine powder so that it would burn pure for maximum propulsion. The driveway served as the launch pad. I would light the fuse and stand back as the countdown progressed. Then liftoff! The rocket would soar off the pad and into the stratosphere. Well, at least in my mind. In reality, the rocket would inevitably start on fire, the poor astronaut eventually melting as the capsule was consumed. The fire truck never seemed to arrive on time. Sad.

They also perished from time to time in horrific plane crashes. Inevitably a model plane would crash in the backyard, fuel was spilled across the tarmac (the patio), and fire would break out. The pumper never made it to the fire either, as the garden house didn’t go that far. Those brave souls never had a chance. Poor bastards.

Those in the research and development division fared much better. True, some lost limbs in experimental surgeries, but others went on to tremendous glory and infamy.

Once the rocket launches proved fruitless, I happened upon other wonders in the 4th of July fireworks assortment. Yes, the Cabin on Fire was fun for a while, especially when you turned the smoke bomb upside down in the cabin and took the time to cut open all the windows and the door. Now where was that Nylint pumper again?

But the true treasure was the pinwheels. You remember them. You nailed them into the fence post and at night, it would spin like wildly, sparks flying everywhere.

If you were enterprising enough, they never made it to the fence post. They ended up in research and development instead.

In my makeshift lab, they would be disassembled and placed onto the back of a model car. Choosing the car was hard. You needed one with really limber and willing wheels. Because the body would only add unnecessary weight, I usually ended up with just a chassis with a seat in the front stuck in some clay, a steering wheel glued in front of the “volunteer” driving. The pilot was glued in for safety. Strapping him in didn’t seem like it would be enough at these speeds. In the back, two of the biggest rocket engines I could find in the assortment of pinwheels.

When all was ready, out to the track we would go. A quick check for traffic, then I’d light the engines. I wish they had GoPro back then. I would have loved to see the pilot’s face as he shot down the street, flames shooting out from the back as he attempted to beat the world land speed record.

It would have been nice to see his face, but I rarely did by the time the run was completed. He would inevitably hit a pebble in our tarred-rock street and the car would skyrocket into the air before rolling over and continuing down the street upside down, the driver’s face grinding away until the craft came to a stop.

Small wonder enlistments were down to almost nothing as I grew older. I think they just didn’t have the stomach anymore for anything I had in store.

In the Emerald City, wondering if I should find some new recruits now that I have several pounds of gunpowder,

– Robb

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