The Good Old Days in Rock Rapids, Iowa, The Fourth of July, l940-1953

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By Bruce B. Brugmann

(Note: In July of l972, when the Guardian was short a Fourth of July story, I sat down and cranked out this one for the front page on my trusty Royal Typewriter.)

Back where I come from, a small town beneath a tall standpipe in northwestern Iowa, the Fourth of July was the best day of a long, hot summer.
The Fourth came after YMCA camp and Scout camp and church camp, but before the older boys had to worry about getting into shape for football. It was welcome relief from the scalding, 100-degree heat in a town without a swimming pool and whose swimming holes at Scout Island were usually dried up by early July. But best of all, it had the kind of excitement that began building weeks in advance.
The calm of the summer dawn and the cooing of the mourning doves on the telephone wires would be broken early on July Fourth: The Creglow boys would be up by 7 a.m. and out on the lawn shooting off their arsenal of firecrackers. They were older and had somehow sent their agents by car across the state line and into South Dakota where, not far above the highway curves of Larchwood, you could legally buy fireworks at roadside stands.
Ted Fisch, Jim Ramsey, Wiener Winters, the Cook boys, Hermie Casjens, Jerry Prahl, and the rest of the neighborhood would race of their houses to catch the action. Some of them had cajoled firecrackers from their parents or bartered from the older boys in the neighborhood: some torpedoes (the kind you smashed against the sidewalk); lots of 2 and 3-inchers, occasionally the granddaddy of them all, the cherry bomb (the really explosive firecracker, stubby, cherry red, with a wick sticking up menacingly from its middle; the kind of firecracker you’d gladly trade away your best set of Submariner comics for).
Ah, the cherry bomb. It was a microcosm of excitement and mischief and good fun. Bob Creglow, the most resourceful of the Creglow boys, would take a cherry bomb, set it beneath a tin can on a porch, light the fuse, then head for the lilac bushes behind the barn.
“The trick,” he would say, imparting wisdom of the highest order, “is to place the can on a wood porch with a wood roof. Then it will hit the top of the porch, bang, then the bottom of the porch, bang. That’s how you get the biggest clatter.”
So I trudged off to the Linkenheil house, the nearest front porch suitable for cherry bombing, to try my hand at small-town demolition. Bang went the firecracker. Bang went the can on the roof. Bang went the can on the floor. Bang went the screen door as Karl Linkenheil roared out in a sweat, and I lit out for the lilacs behind the barn with my dog, Oscar.