It was dark as the two teenaged lovers embraced and a soft summer breeze wafted through the empty park. Nary a creature stirred except the magical fireflies that Matty had so loved as a child. They blinked their coded messages now, appearing and vanishing as quickly as if they were falling stars close to the earth and tho they were not so rare, there was something mysterious about them… timeless and beautiful, like summer snowflakes.

             Matty gently massaged Bobby’s neck and shoulders and kissed the trembling boy on the top of his head until he stopped crying and he felt him relax, his muscular shoulders drooping ever so slightly and his hugging arms loosening until they rested at the apex of his buttocks.

          “What do you say, Bobby. Why don’t we get out of here… Maybe head down to the shore. We could spend the night sleeping on the dunes.”

              Bobby slid his fingers into Matty’s back pockets and took a deep breath… “Sure, Bubba… whatever you want to do, as long as you promise that tonight will never end…”

                Matty looked down at the young man in his arms and gently tilted his head up and kissed him until their lips melted into each other and  once more felt the passion stir in his groin like it had for nearly 7 years now. Their lips parted and a distant rumble reminded them that time was drawing close and along with it, a holiday that they had looked foward to like every boy in the sleepy little town at the base of Spruce  Mountain…

                      It escaped neither of them that this year would be different, for the circle had widened and the dreams of one had outpaced the yearnings of both.

                      “It’s starting already,” Bobby noted, as he stood up and looked towards the north and the contrails of a huge Roman Candle that had managed to clear the treeline in the distance.

                        “Yeah… Maybe my cousins are at it again,” Matty said. “I know they got a hold of a big supply of  fireworks after Johnny came back from Florida last winter. Tom said something about  ‘South of the Border’ and the huge store there that’s chock full of everything that’s illegal up here!”

                            Bobby laughed. “You mean, professional stuff!  Not like the stuff we made a few years back…”

                                The tall, blond boy grinned and shook his head, and laughed heartily. He knew exactly what Bobby was referring to! It was 3… no, 4 years ago, in the summer of 1968. A good time to be a kid, and a time he would never forget. Lord, it seemed like yesterday….

July 4th, 1968

                “Hey Bubba! Watch out for that…. PUDDLE!!”  Bobby yelled as the tractor careened down the muddy  farm road, bouncing as it hit the deep potholes that were filled with rainwater from the night before. “Cripes!! OOOO!! “Bobby yelped, as the nobby tires threw a spray of chocolate- colored water  high into the scorching hot summer air, coating the three boys in the trailer as they frantically tried to protect themselves with empty burlap bags.

                             Matty laughed hysterically as he watched the comical scene unfold… Bobby’s once white t- shirt was now dripping with mud and Tyler’s face bore a contorted look of both terror and excitement as he held on for dear life, lest he join the multitude of boys who had ended up being Christened in one of these famous puddles over the years. The other boy, a youngster named Pete, was holding his own in only his second week on the job, a mid- summer replacement of a boy who had abdicated his duties on the farm to join his family on a venture to their summer cottage on the Cape…

               But, just as suddenly, little Pete’s fortunes turned, and he teetered, grabbing for the swaying trailer sideboard. He would have been OK, but  Matty had noticed the inexperienced stance and swerved towards the deepest puddle on the road, first to the left and then to the right, and then the tractor was bouncing thru the treacherous pit, and the trailer behind followed suit, it’s smaller tires skidding in the slimy mess… The heavy wood bed suddenly tilted and then the boy was airborne, as if he was on a trampoline, and in a most ungraceful fashion, landed on his backside in the mucky water to the delight of the other boys…

                       Matty slowed the tractor to a crawl as the 12- year- old boy wallowed  in the puddle, trying to stand up. He  finally succeeded, only to lose his footing again as the other boys doubled over in laughter… By the time he rejoined the rolling caravan, he was smiling sheepishly and vowing to never be thrown again. But, he had earned his ‘wings’ and was now an official part of the crew and was soon joyfully perched atop Bobby’s  shoulders as the four naked boys engaged each other in the traditional ‘chicken fight’ battles in the small, secluded pond on that hot summer day.

                       By  mid-afternoon the days work was coming to an early end, as the farm prepared for an early shutdown to observe the 4th of July holiday…

                             “So, you got all the fuses made?” Bobby asked, looking at Matty as he unloaded the rest of the  corn from the tractor lift, and set it down in the tall grass near the dirt driveway.

                             Matty stopped sweeping the concrete floor in the tractor shed and put his finger to his lips. “SHHH!!!  Not so loud! All we need is for the wrong person to hear, and the gig will be up!”

                             Bobby reddened. “Sorry”, he whispered. “I got the extra rolls of caps and your cousin Tom tracked down a bunch of needles his mom had in her sewing box, so all we need is more lighter fluid. You got the scotch tape, right?”

                                   “Yeah, and we don’t need the lighter fluid anymore either… I remembered that I had bought some for my boot warmers that I use for trapping last winter. I had it in that little cabinet in the basement with my trapping books. So, we’re ready to rock and roll!! As soon as you get showered, meet us all at the end of the street near the telephone pole. We’ll put the rest of the grenades together and we can set them off before the big show starts!”

                            “Cool!  Are you sure they’re going to work? I mean, I never saw one go off before.”

                          “Sure! They’re not as loud as ‘Black Cats’ unless you really use a lot of caps, but they make a pretty big bang if you wrap them tight with the scotch tape… I guess that contains the blast and kind of makes the explosion more violent… and, they’re a lot cheaper than the real deal…”

                               “I’ll be there! Definitely! Soon as I shower and shave…”

                               “Huh?  Shave? Whatta ya talkin’ about? You shave down there and you’re gonna look like a ten- year- old kid!” Matty grinned. He loved to irritate the boy, so he did it with a deadpan look and turned away so that Bobby wouldn’t see him smile.

                              “Dickhead! You know what I mean! My beard! I gotta shave my beard!”

                            “Beard? You call that peach fuzz a beard? By that definition, my momma is a freakin’ grizzly, then!”

                            Bobby choked on a laugh, and gave his buddy a cautionary head shake… “I wouldn’t say that in front of your momma! She might swat you all the way across the room! “

                              “Yeah, well, she could try. I’m not a little kid anymore, and even though you’re almost  14, you  ain’t exactly old enough to shave, either! Come ‘ere!” Matty motioned to the swarthy boy and Bobby complied, meeting him halfway.

                                 Then, standing inches away, Matty inspected the dirt -smudged face. He ran his fingers under the teenager’s chin and up and down on his right cheek and then his left, with a serious look on his face… Studying the smooth, tanned skin like a scientist.

                                     Finally, he broke the silence. “Yup! I see it!”

                                Bobby reacted immediately, with a tinge of confusion in his voice. “Really? Under my chin? Or can you see some on the side of my face?”

                               “Both.”

                             “Both? Really?… I mean… yeah, I know. I thought I looked different this morning, and I just shaved last night!”

                               “Well, you probably did… look different, that is. Only, it’s probably because most of the dirt came off in the shower, but now it’s back!! Big time!!  All over! Under your chin and all over your face!”

                                 Bobby looked confused for a moment and then narrowed his eyes and lunged at his thin blond friend, trying to put him into a headlock… On and on they tussled, yelling and grunting and laughing until neither boy could breathe, much less talk. They both fell to the ground, into the tall, soft, summer  grass and laid there, side by side, panting and giggling until they were able to talk again. It was a dance they had perfected over the years. Only once had it ended in injury and that was accidental. No, the wrestling and posing was just a part of the closeness they shared and their mutual desire for skin to skin contact, so it was repeated over and over in various scenarios until those around them rolled their eyes or made rude comments about how they acted like a married couple.

                                    At first, Matty was horrified by those random comments until he learned to ignore them and the ignorant people who made them. Most of the time… Mostly.

                                   It was nearly 5:30 as Matty gulped down the last of his cheeseburger at the impromptu barbeque in the backyard at his house, and asked to be excused to join his cousins and friends for the exciting extravaganza to come, on that  thursday night. He had devoured three of the homemade concoctions as well as a large helping of creamy potato salad and a giant piece of juicy, chilled watermelon. He almost regretted leaving the family celebration, but the excitement and spectacle of the night awaited and to the defeated sigh of his mother, he scurried away to join the rest. It would be a memorable night for many reasons…

                                 As soon as he exited the family- packed neighborhood, he ran into the group of seven boys. Some of them carried  brown paper bags, furtively looking around for witnesses as if they were involved in some criminal enterprise. They would have made terrible poker players…

                                 “Hey guys!” Matty said as he joined the group. Each of the boys turned and greeted the tall, blond boy, and just as hurriedly, they all retreated to the obscurity of the nearby woods. There, atop a large tree stump, they assembled the various parts of the homemade fireworks, carefully weaving the sewing needles through the centers of the toy gun percussion caps, making a kind of accordion of the red strips of gunpowder embedded paper, until it was impossible to fit anymore onto that length of needle… Then ( and this required two sets of hands), the other  teammate wrapped the compressed accordion with scotch tape, as forcefully as possible, without tearing the transparent tape or trapping his buddies fingers in the sticky contraption. The tighter the wrap, the bigger the bang! Where this knowledge had originated was unclear, possibly from older brothers to younger ones, but it had been tested and it did work… After each little bundle was prepared, the sharp ends of the sewing needles were still exposed… Each ‘bundle’ was then soaked in a small, aluminum tray of lighter fluid. Certain ones were also equipped with homemade fuses, which were little more than paper soaked in lighter fluid , rolled in salvaged gunpowder from dozens of the little toy gun caps, and then twisted and rolled into long wicks… The longer the wick, the further away the boys could run before the tiny grenade exploded… And, the sharp ends of the sewing needles came in mighty handy! They were pushed into the trees or telephone poles and kept the devices from catching fire to any dried grass or weeds. Once the fuse was lit on each firecracker, the countdown was underway!  The flame would creep towards the bundled explosive until it finally started the outside skin of the device ablaze, heating the central ‘detonator’ to a high temperature until the gunpowder reached its flashpoint and ‘BOOM’, the explosion occurred and there was nothing left but tiny shards of smoldering red paper…

                  It was ingenious in its simplicity and the boys were being thoroughly entertained while the evening approached and the true professionals set up the main display a few hundred yards away.

                               They were down to the final 3 ‘grenades’ and a handful of manufactured ‘Black Cats’ as the sun started to set on the back street that divided the family houses… The boys decided on a ‘Grand Finale’ end to the amateur firework lighting, and attached all of the last three grenades to the nearest three telephone poles on the darkening street. The youngest cousin, Mark, and his brother Mike, had secured their last Black Cat in a predrilled hole in a green apple from the nearby Granny Smith apple tree. It was to be used as a final, finale–  Thrown into the air as high as possible after the fuse was lit, and it was hoped that the blast would disintegrate the small apple in spectacular fashion as the sun set on that hot summer day.

                                 Everything was prepared and the fuses lit, except the Black Cat apple ‘bomb’ and the group of boys stood transfixed in the center of the quiet street and chattered nervously, awaiting the final explosions as the little fuses slowly burned their way towards the main packages…

                                Suddenly, the silence was shattered by the screeching of tires and the simultaneous wail of a police siren!! It was too late to run, in reality. The car was upon them in an instant, and the infuriated officer had already seen their faces, so escape would have been only a temporary victory…

           ”  FREEZE!!”

              It was absurd, and were it not for the red-faced man in the blue uniform with his hand on the butt of his service revolver, it would have been laughable, but there they were.  Seven teenagers gathered in a loose group in the center of the macadam street, bewildered but nervous. What had they done to warrant this?

              “All of you !! Line up! NOW!!  Right here!! NOW! ” the irate cop ordered.

               The boys sheepishly complied, and Matty felt his heart beating faster and faster… Apparently the officer had not noticed the flickering little flames on the light poles… Matty glanced to his right. Sure enough, the nearest one was still burning… Bobby stood to his left, grinning slyly… The blond boy nudged him and whispered, “Quit that!”

                      “HEY!  NO TALKING!! I want all you boys to hand over all the fireworks in your pockets! NOW!!”

                      The boys glanced at each other and a few quietly giggled … That, did NOT set well with Officer Garetty!!

                       “So, it’s FUNNY, huh?? How’d you all like to spend some time in jail? ” He started to pace, back in forth, in front of the boys, and he seemed to be getting more angry by the second. “Now, fork over the fireworks or the next step will be handcuffs!”

                          “Ain’t got  none,” interjected Franky. And then he added, “Ain’t done a thing wrong either! You got the wrong guys…”

                              Matty grimaced. He wasn’t sure exactly how illegal the homemade fireworks were, but he did know that the Black Cats, which had come from a different state, were not legal, even if every boy in town had them at one point or the other… But, he had none, and neither did Bobby. But, there WAS that one in the apple… The apple!!  Where in the heck was that? The last he knew, Mike had handed it to his cousin Tom… He glanced at the tall, stocky boy and caught his eye. Tommy twitched and glanced at Mike, who seemed to be hiding something behind his back.

                                  The cop was now starting to melt down and Matty calmly interrupted his rant. “Officer Garetty, may  I say something?”

                              The swarthy policeman turned on a dime and came to stand, nose to nose with the teenaged boy. “You can talk if you tell me where the fireworks are! I know you boys have them! I’ve been chasing you all over town tonight and I’m sick of it! Now, it’s time to end this! Empty your pockets and tell me where you got them!”

                                 “But sir, I can honestly say that we have been only in this neighborhood all night… We all live around here and we don’t have some big stash of illegal fireworks! We just don’t”.

                                  It was at that very instant that two things happened…

                         The flickering flame on the telephone pole only 30 feet away, grew in intensity and suddenly, there was a tremendous explosion!  The loudest of the night, or so it seemed… The startled cop spun on his heels but there was nothing to see… The ‘grenade’ had completely vanished, save some tiny shards of red paper that even Matty with his keen vision couldn’t make out in the vanishing light.

                             “WHAT THE FUCK!! WHO DID THAT??” the fuming cop queried.

                              It was at that moment that Matty felt the hand behind his back… Mike was trying to hand him something and before he could stop him, he found himself in possession of the missing Granny Smith apple bomb!! Now, he started to sweat, as the cop started to search the boys, rapidly moving down the line, inverting pockets and patting the boys t- shirts everywhere in a futile effort to locate that which did not exist, at least in THIS neighborhood. It would only be a moment until he was searching the tall blond boy, so Matty nudged Bobby and handed him the contraband and motioned with his eyes to pass it on… There was no particular plan, just the hope that somehow the cop would give up before finding the apple, but then it happened again, only this time, there were TWO rapid fire explosions, down the street, as Officer Garetty swore again and looked disbelievingly towards the sounds of the explosions.

                                 Matty glanced at Bobby, and Bobby jerked his head towards Mark, the youngest cousin at the very end of the lineup…

                                     A dull ‘THUMP’ caught Matty’s attention and he looked towards the sound to see the missing apple roll across the open pavement and slowly find a home, directly underneath the blue and white cruiser with the red lights atop. He couldn’t believe it! And, Officer Garetty had been distracted at just the right moment and never saw the apple roll across the street almost at his feet!!  All of the boys seemed to be torn between prayer and laughter as the cop threw his hands up and left them all standing there, suddenly deciding that he had made a mistake. He leaped into the cruiser and slammed the open door. He never uttered a discernible word, just some vague expletive as he reversed the car and did a dramatic highway turn in the middle of the once quiet street, leaving the little green apple, teetering on its side and rolling a little bit more, this time to the curb where it sat in plain view to those who were not too blind to see.

     It was a beautiful display that night in the summer of ’68…  Bobby and his best friend sat side- by- side on the hill overlooking the marsh to the east and the farm to the west and watched as the sky caught fire and the concussions from the rockets shook everything around them… They sat in the shadows of the giant elms, their fingers interlocked and their love as strong as the day it was born. Almost four years later to the day, that love would be tested in ways that most would never understand. It has taken me a lifetime, and much is still a mystery….

Continued in Part 4…

 
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