Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: By The Rockets’ Red Glare
Harrold’s main street became my playground in the summer time. Living behind the barbershop I only had to open the front door to be playing cowboy and Indians or riding my bike in the main street. On weeknights the street was deserted, with only a few cars parked in front of the pool hall. I spent a lot of evenings playing on that two-block- long main street. I never was afraid of the dark until the night of the rocket incident.
I had a sky rocket left over from the Fourth of July, and my cousin Dave thought we should shoot it off. This particular night was perfect for a launch. No wind, no people, and no parents. Dad had given me strict orders to not mess with the rocket until he could be there, but Dave was a good talker and always seemed to think of ways to get us in trouble. This night was no different. We didn’t need any help to shoot off the rocket. Or to get into trouble.
There was a big square two foot high block of granite setting on the railroad right-of-way. It seemed like a great spot to shoot the rocket off from. We could prop it against the block so it went up and away from town and we could watch it from launch to touch down. No problem.
As we were leaning the rocket against the block of granite, we noticed a neighbor, Mrs. Hansen, standing under the street light at the far end of the block. Mrs. Hansen was an imposing figure, and the kids in town were somewhat afraid of her. She seemed to be curious, pausing to figure out what we were up to. With the rocket in launch position, Dave struck a match and lit the fuse. As we turned to run across the street to watch the fireworks, I jostled the rocket, causing it to fall over and point down the street. Helplessly, we watched long enough to see the rocket’s sideways launch, right at Mrs. Hansen! We didn’t stick around to see what happened next. Dave ran for home and I ran into the barbershop, locking the door behind me. After a while I slipped out the back door and down the alley far enough to see the street corner under the streetlight’s glare. Everything was quiet. No Mrs. Hansen, alive or dead, in sight. A flood of relief came over me just before fear set in, fear that Mrs. Hansen was calling the cops at that very moment, or worse yet, hiding in the shadows, waiting to chase me with a baseball bat or her meat cleaver! I scrambled in our back door, locked it, turning off the lights and sitting in the dark, hoping my folks would get home soon, before Mrs. Hansen found me.
Dave and I never heard anything about the incident, dad never mentioned it and we never told anyone about it. But after that, whenever I was scared of the dark, I imagined Mrs. Hansen with her baseball bat coming after me.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the July 24, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News