Thursday, March 23, 2006

In which, we explode a bullet...

We had an uncle whom we'd never met because he had died at 17 in a pickup truck accident about three years before the eldest of us was born.

His name was Marx Perryman. Actually, his name was "Marks," in honor of a Jewish friend that my grandfather had known when he was in the Arkansas State Legislature back in the 1930s ... if I recall this one correctly (though I may be conflating two stories). But "Marks" ended up named for a different, better-known Jewish fellow because of a spelling error that some official made on the birth certificate.

As a consequence, everyone erroneously assumed that Marx's name was a political statement. But that's a different story.

When a good son dies, some things in a mother's life stop.

Small things with only tenuous, even merely incidental connection to the lost child take on an aura, like sacred relics.

Our grandmother kept on the kitchen windowsill about three or four bullets that Marx had once bought ... perhaps for target practice, for I seem to recall being told that he didn't like hunting.

The bullets were shells for a .22 gauge rifle, as I later discovered ... years later, having somehow lived, and eventually learned. But let's not jump the gun...

Pat and I first noticed the bullets and marveled at them. "What are these?" we asked our grandmother.

"They're bullets," she explained. "They belonged to your Uncle Marx. Don't touch them."

"Why not?" we wondered.

"Because they might explode," she warned. "So, don't touch them or hit them with anything."

"Like with a hammer?" we asked.

"Especially not a hammer," she agreed.

I can't guarantee that the conversation went exactly like that, and Pat might better recall the specific details, but I do recall very clearly that we soon located a hammer and took one of the bullets to the back of our house and placed it carefully on the rock step directly in front of our basement door.

We then discussed who should go first. Again, my memory is unclear. Perhaps Pat, the elder, had that privilege. Whoever went first, the initial hammer blow accomplished nothing. Nor did the second. Then came a series of blows, whether by me or Pat, I don't recall. Again, nothing.

"What a gyp!" we grumbled.

One final attempt: KAPOW!

Dazed by the sound, my ears ringing, I barely heard Pat cry out in pain before he jumped to his feet and ran off.

I'm still not sure what happened because we were so thoroughly scolded that I didn't want to remind anyone. I didn't notice any blood on Pat, so perhaps he was only grazed by the bullet. Or maybe the explosion threw powder into his eyes.

Anyway, we learned our lesson.

Well ... Pat did.

What I learned was that a bullet would make a tremendous loud bang. I just needed another bullet to test a hypothesis that I had concocted based on the evidence gathered from our little experiment.

My hypothesis? That a bullet would also explode if heated.

Unfortunately, grandmother had learned a lesson, too, and had gotten rid of the remaining bullets on the windowsill.

But that wouldn't stop a tenacious, stupid kid ... and I figured that somewhere in the house, there would be other bullets.

Eventually ... I located a couple.

I wondered if I should save them for winter and toss them into our wood stove ... but I considered that their explosion might destroy the stove itself, and while that would be fun, it would probably also get me into a lot of trouble.

So, I secretly threw them both into a pile of autumn leaves that one of my older cousins was burning while several of us were standing around it one fine afternoon.

My hypothesis was correct: KAPOW!

Everybody jumped. "What was that?!" someone cried.


"Bullets!" someone else exclaimed.

Everyone ran. But there were no more explosions, and since no one was sure how the bullets had gotten into the fire, I escaped unscathed.

I attempted no more bullet experiments, but not because I had learned my lesson. I hadn't learned a thing beyond the amoral fact that bullets will explode when struck or heated, but that knowledge had sufficed to satisfy me...

Besides, I had formulated other questions, such as ... will an aerosol can tossed into a fire take off like a rocket?

Answer: It will.


At 11:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story. It reminds me of the science experiments I conducted as a very young student of fire, explosions and knives. It's amazing what curious boys will do and even more so that so many of us live to tell the tales. Of course, these tales only get told after we're old enough that our parents won't kill us.

I'm really enjoying this series of stories, by the way.

At 4:15 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Yes, we do wait before telling stories about things that our parents would have killed us for ... but now, I'm just hoping that my brothers don't kill me since they're involved in these stories.

I'm enjoying recounting these tales of my misspent youth, but I do wish that I could better recall some of the details. Pat tells me that I have a good memory, but I know that I don't.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another hilarious story I especially enjoyed, Jeffery.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Nathan. Glad that you enjoyed it.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:41 AM, Blogger Lorraine said...

Surfed over to your blog and had a great laugh at your bullet testing,etc. story!! It's a great one! It really is amazing how we've lived to tell these tales!
I grew up in a woodsie neighborhood, and when I was a kid, with my friends, we used to take our empty metal garbage cans, rolling them out to the back yard,fill them with leaves/sticks/GASOLINE, set them aflame and toss foil wrapped baking potatoes into the fire to roast them. (first off, how disgusting was that that we dared eating BBQ'd potatoes out of our garbage cans!!?? But we were kids and what the hell did we care? We just wanted to make fire and screw around with it!!)
Anywho...My girlfriend Mary and I got the bright idea of taking an old,dried up gallon paint can, fill it with kindling, poured gasoline onto it and covered the concoction with two wooden shake shingles left over from our exterior house project. I struck the match and gingerly dropped it between the cracks of the shingles. Like your 'bullet-in-the-burning-leaves' story....KABOOOOOOM went the pail, up went the shingles and kindling,spreading crackling fire all over my father's newly seeded and hayed back lawn!!!!! I think I gained super speed that day because the first thing I did was fly to the outside spigot, dowse a baby doll blanket and drench the fires out before my mother and father could kick my @ss!!!!
Hope you post more fun/wild adventures. I'd like to read them. I have more to share here if you'd like, too.

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Vamprowler. Good story from you, too. I have more in this series. If you go to the main blog and look around at blog entries about the same time as this one, you'll find more childhood stories.

I see that you like vampires (or ... are one?). I have two or three vampire poems on my blog, which you could probably find by running a search (or by going to my blogroll, looking under "Hodges: Online Poetry" and clicking on "Poetry Breaks: Some of My Poems."

Thanks for visiting.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:04 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Not a good idea, i had been burning trash the other day and somehow their happend to be a bullet in the bottom and it went off hitting me in the arm,leaving me with allmost a two inch deep hole in my arm, good story but do not try at home,

At 3:43 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jason, thanks for the comment -- and the timely warning. Well, timely for others, anyway. I probably needed the cautionary note 47 years ago, but I got lucky . . . twice.

Jeffery Hodges

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