My great grandpa lived most of his life in a tiny village in Missouri. Village isn’t quite accurate. It was a collection of houses that rested along the access road of the freeway. It used to be Route 66. When it was Route 66, he and his wife ran a service station and a motel. I suppose it did well but then again it doesn’t exist anymore. By the time I came into existence they were both retired and Grandpa worked a small parcel of land. Down the road was a huge cavern famous for being the hide out of the bank robber Jesse James. That’s were the dynamite comes into this story. Great grandpa had an enormous horde of dynamite taken from the federal road program that ran through that part of the country just before the Second World War. Since then grandpa’s hobby was looking for new entrances to the largely unexplored caverns by blowing up dynamite on his property. The most impressive hole I saw was roughly a thirty-meter square hole taken away from a hillside.
As a child instead of going to summer camp I was shipped up to Great grandpa and grandma’s house. I spent my days exploring and wandering. Occasionally, I would make the long trek down the freeway to buy fireworks from a “buy one get eleven free” firework stands. Usually, I tried to help grandpa or grandma around the property. For grandpa I could hand him tools when he called for them from beneath a broken piece of farm equipment. There always seemed to be wood that needed to be piled. This was a better chore than you might think as any number of snakes, rodents, or insects could be found and investigated, as is the want of a young boy. Grandma was always in the kitchen. Even when she wasn’t cooking she could be found at the table in the kitchen reading a romance novel or the newspaper. My assistance to her was preparation of some food. Grating cheese, snapping peas, measuring flour. The whole time she would chatter tales of family history. Some of the history concerned my own father or grandfather. Other times it was about our ancestors. My favourite were always about the civil war.
Unbeknownst to me grandpa’s hobby had lain dormant for many years. The concerned family convinced him of the folly of fooling about with decades old dynamite. I was told it becomes unstable and a good knock will make it go off. One of my favourite things to do was go down to the watermelon patch with grandpa. He would grab the saltshaker from the kitchen. We would go down to the patch, pick out our melons, and sit on the nearby bench eating melon and spitting seeds at the many cats my grandma had adopted. This time we made a detour. A cleared spot in the forest surrounded a three-meter gash made in the earth.
“Hold it, son.” Without explanation grandpa carefully made is way to the bottom of the pit. Soon, he made his way back out just as deliberately and carefully. The only difference was the hiss and puffs of grey smoke that now emanated from the hole.
“C’mon. This ain’t one of your firecrackers. Get your head down over here. Your Pa thought they hid all my dynamite, but I forgot about some and found a whole mess of it in the shed.” The explosion was incredible. We have all seen dynamite being used in movies and we can imagine the destructive power as we see the fire and hear the explosion, but when you actually feel the explosion’s concussion rush through your body. In concert with the awe of the sound, it actually stuns you. Our human minds have not evolved to be able to process such an unnatural violence. My grandpa gave one of his low chuckles when he looked at my face. My eyes must have been the sizes of saucers, as I looked dumbfounded at him and the whole that still had a thin cloud of dust and smoke. “Your grandpa is going be in a mess a trouble with your grannie when we get back.” He chuckled again. “So let’s eat real slow.” and with that we walked down to the garden and he answered the thousand questions that rushed to my young mind after such a spectacle.