Anyone with a brother, especially a little brother, knows the kind of trouble you can get into as kids. I lived in a much simpler time when my brother and I could be out all morning roaming the neighborhood, come home to eat lunch, be gone the rest of the afternoon, eat dinner, and then stay out late until our mom called us to come in. Usually we waited until she called us by our full names, then we knew she was serious.
So while we were safe from the kind of creepy predators that seem to be everywhere today, we were not safe with the kind of stuff we did together. I can count a number of times that “but for the grace of God” my brother and I were not seriously hurt or killed. To say we were adventurous does not begin to cover it. The following just barely covers a small fraction of what we did.
My brother and I were extremely excited when a weather balloon landed at Munday Park, which was just down the street where we lived. When they came to pick it up, the workers gave us the big paper parachute that came with it. We used it like drag racers to slow down our bikes as we whipped down the street at what we thought were incredible speeds. After a while we thought it was boring, so we had to come up with something more exciting. A few blocks away, close to our friend’s house, was what we thought was a really big water reservoir. It was a couple of stories high so we climbed to the top with the intention of jumping off with the parachute, expecting it to help us glide down smoothly, just like we saw on TV. I strapped myself to the parachute, approached the edge, and got ready to jump. My wonderful little brother Art, in a sudden burst of inspiration, suggested that we try a dry run with a rock to see how well it would work. That suggestion met with an argument from me, because after all, we used to make our own little parachutes with plastic bags and attached them to our little army men. After tossing them high in the air they floated down very slowly and made cool landings. Surely the same thing would happen with me, wouldn’t it?
He finally talked me into it, and we attached a rock to the parachute and dropped it off the edge. The rock, which could not have weighed more than 8 or 9 pounds, went crashing down and broke into numerous pieces. It took me a long time to catch my breath after that.
Another time my brother and I fancied ourselves to be little pyrotechnicians. We discovered the wonder of dry ice and the great amount of gas it threw off when we put it in water. We had to find a way to make things explode. We looked and looked and finally found an old bottle of Ban roll-on deodorant. We took off the cap, filled the little bottle with dry ice, put water in it, put the cap back on, and ran away waiting for it to explode. It didn’t. We waited and waited, and still nothing. So what did the smart older brother do? I walked over to the bottle, put my face right over the top of the bottle to see what was happening, and turned to tell my brother that nothing was happening. As I turned my head to talk to him, I felt the ball from the deodorant bottle go whizzing by my ear and, as far as I could tell, into outer space. We never did find the ball, but at least it did not create a nice little hole in my head.
We grew up in the Sunset Heights area of El Paso, a very short distance from what is now UT El Paso. During the construction of I-10 in the area, a large number of drainage tunnels were built near the freeway. Of course my brother and I and our friends thought it would be a good idea to start at one end of those tunnels and crawl to the other end. In and of itself it would not be dangerous, but we did it while huge thunderclouds were gathering just before a driving rainstorm. We got out just before the downpour started, which filled the tunnels in less than a minute, washing everything out into a drainage area. We got beat for that one, and not by our mom. She called in our grandfather to punish us. Not good.
When we moved to the Lakeside area, our back yard bordered some irrigation canals that used to service the area when it was farmland. We discovered that by digging into the side of the canal and again down from the top, we could make a cool little furnace to burn things. We lit fires and threw all sorts of stuff in there to watch it burn. What kind of things did we throw in there? How about half full spray paint cans? We would poke it with sticks and sharp objects to make the paint leak out and catch fire because it made a cool looking little torch. Of course we stuck our face right up in there to take a close look. Why didn’t it blow up and shoot shrapnel all over the place? God only knows.
One more example, I will write about others at a later time. We found out that we could break into my dad’s shop and access his acetylene torch. What did we need a torch for? No, we didn’t weld anything or cut metal. When you mix a little acetylene and oxygen in a balloon and ignited it, we got a nice little bang out of it. We experimented with a lot of different ways of igniting it, and found that a little bit of steel wool attached to a 9 volt battery would set off the balloon. My dad went nuts thinking that his torch set was leaking, and took back a couple of tanks and at least two sets of gauges complaining that he was losing gas. It wasn’t until years later, when we were grown that we told my dad what had happened.
So why was this dangerous? Well of course anytime you use the words kids and explosions in the same sentence it is a recipe for trouble. Our trouble began when my brother and his friend Dennis bought an extra-large balloon. Not sure if it cost us a nickel or a dime, but it was much larger than the others we used. When fully inflated it probably was the size of a large pillow. Anyway, it would take a lot of acetylene and oxygen to fill it, and I knew (for a change) that it was not a good idea to blow this one up in our yard. The option? Have Art and Dennis take the balloon to Dennis’ backyard to blow it up.
For whatever reason I decided that I was not going to go along with this one. They took it to his backyard, which was across the street and three doors down. They dug a nice deep hole, wired up the little steel wool fuse, buried it, and put little green army men on top of it. I was at home when I heard the thunderous boom and I felt the windows rattle. Oh Crap! They have got to be dead. When I got there, Dennis and Art just sat their stunned. Dennis’ dog Pancho was cowering in a corner. In between bouts of spitting dirt out of his mouth, Dennis kept mumbling “My dad is going to kill me. My dad is going to kill me.” I could see why. Instead of a little hole that existed when they buried the balloon, a much larger, wider hole now existed.
Every one of these accounts is true. The ironic part is that my mom told us if we hurt ourselves she was going to kill us. My friend John Orchard likes to say that God protects children and fools. We were both.