Monday, February 27, 2006

An Explosion

I recall it was one of those sparkling clear and chilly fall mornings. The war was all around us. The radio counted the dead each morning. There were reports of the night bombings over Europe. We lived with rationing of food and fuel and shortages of necessities. School, however, was something of an oasis of calm. I was a Junior in high school. We were sitting in our homeroom. I can’t remember why I was there. I didn’t have any classes with my homeroom teacher; but I was there, perhaps I had a study hour. I do remember that there was simultaneously a flash of light and a clap of thunder right outside our room. A bomb?/ We were all stunned and deafened. When we could hear, we were engulfed in the sharp, shrill sound of fire alarmseverywhere in the building. Our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Simms, bless her heart, took charge quickly. She herded us to the door, but having figured out what was happening, she headed us to the left down the long hall, toward the staircase in the center of the building. At fire drills we had always gone right, to the close-by staircase, but that led us by the chemistry lab. It was full of smoke which was pouring out into the hall. I don’t remember much more except faculty members all yelling, “DON”T RUN!” repeatedly and frantically.

Next day the newspaper headlines were “High School Explosion Hurts 4”. In those days of no TV, no cell phones and no local radio, we had lived on rumors since it happened. One of the rumors had a friend of mine as a culprit. The paper confirmed that and the fact he was the most seriously injured. He and two buddies had decided to makes some fireworks during Chemistry Club. Johnny, my friend, had been grinding ingredients in a mortar. Boom! Johnny lost an eye, several fingers and was cut up quite badly. Two others who were in kahoots with Johnny, had less serious injuries. Mr. Tome, the chemistry teacher had been with other students in the back of the room. He received some minor cuts.

By the time Johnny got out of the hospital and had fully recovered, it was spring and too late for him to get back to school. The school board had held an investigation and Johnny told them that the Mr. Tome had no idea what Johnny and his buddies were doing. He was a good teacher and a heck of a nice guy. It was wartime and teachers were hard to find, so they kept him on. Johnny and buddies got a public scolding which had them hanging head pretty low. Johnny tried to join the Army and the Navy, but both turned him down. The Merchant Marine accepted him and he went to sea.

Tomorrow...the rest of the story

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