THE FIRE (OUR COMING OUT PARTY) – 1984 10 YEARS OLD
The summer between fourth and fifth grade was our most prolific, and we almost destroyed the entire town. Until then, we were infamous only in our own neighborhood. After the summer of 1984, the entire town would come to know the Weathington Boys. Looking back, I guess it is not normal for ten-year-olds to have an armed stand off with the local fuzz, even if it was an inevitable trajectory.
Every kid — wait, every normal kid — plays with matches. Brian and I were no different except we might have taken our pyro antics a bit further than most. As I have mentioned, we also took our hobby to church, which might have pushed the limits of good taste. Over the years, we experimented with a variety of fire and explosive devices. Molotov cocktails were standard. They were cheap and easy, especially if you siphoned the gas, or unbolted the entire gas tank of a logging truck and took it home with you.
We referred to them as DD bombs, short for Daisy Duke bombs. Being huge fans of The Dukes of Hazzard, we loved the firebombs Bo and Luke used. However, at the time it seemed a bit gay to name them Bo and Luke bombs. I guess the homophobia propaganda from church had had an impact on us.
We broke down fireworks and reassembled them into proper bombs. It was the country kid’s version of the Manhattan Project. Using over the counter Snap n’ Pops and some toilet paper we could make a firebomb that exploded on impact. Not many ten year olds can make a homemade mortar. So many match heads would make a nice torch. Hand grenades and landmines fashioned from shotgun shells were two of our better inventions.
How to make a hand grenade from a shotgun shell:
- Cut plastic end off with pocketknife (the end where the lead comes out). If this is confusing, please stop reading immediately and continue shopping for your new sweater vest.
- Shake out all lead.
- Remove the wadding from the base of the brass. It is a small plastic vessel used to hold the lead. At point blank range it will leave a two-inch hole coming out.
- Place a marble on the primer of the shotgun shell. This is the small inner circle on the brass end.
- Tape the marble in place.
The entire state of Georgia was withering from a protracted drought; not being farmers, we did not pay it much attention. The year before, someone logged all the trees from one of our local forests. As was par for the course in those days, nothing was replanted and a wasteland was left for everyone to enjoy for the next fifty or so years. There were piles of bone-dry pine trees as large as homes. What could possibly go wrong?
Brian and I, the only true thugs in the group, along with a couple of innocent bystanders were out on a walk-about. We lit a small fire on top of a hill. As it grew so did the entertainment value. The straight kids were panicky from the start, but I was really into it; I wanted it bigger.
I got my wish.
The fire quickly reached a level that was closing in on uncomfortable; we made the call to put it out. Everyone started stomping, beating it with the root balls of plants, throwing large rocks: these techniques worked about as well as my mullet did on my first job interview. As we threw yet another rock on top of the pile, I noticed the fire fall into the hill. Like Han Solo realizing the Millennium Falcon was not parked in a cave, I realized we were not actually on a hill. Our hill was in fact the largest pile of dead pine trees in the Western Hemisphere. It was so large in comparison to the other 25-foot tall piles; we mistook it for a smallish mountain.
This was the turning point in our childhoods.
It got very big very fast. Brian ran by now in a full panic. I must have been a bit more of a pyro than Brian; I was still kind of into it. Wait! Brian was in full panic! I was instantly slapped back into reality. If Brian was freaking out, I sure as hell should ramp up the adrenaline a notch. I then stepped back and took in the gravity of the situation. At this point, the fire was roughly the size of a small gymnasium and spreading like, well, wildfire, actually.
Brian sprinted for help. This was the second and last time either one of us: A) Left the scene of the crime without the other, B) Ran for help. Brian ran full tilt five miles to our house. My mom, forever posing as if she had normal children, had some of the local socialites over for lunch. They were probably discussing their honor roll sons and daughters and the next church fundraiser when Brian busted through the screened door.
Drenched in sweat and black ash, he collapsed at their feet. He was wearing his usual camouflaged cutoffs and no shirt. The sweat left white streaks through the ash on his skin like slug trails. My mom was shocked, but not nearly as much as her guests. She raised his head and asked him what was wrong. With his last available gasp he stated, “Fire.”
My mom was temporarily struck with confusion until she looked in the direction from which he had run. Dark smoke was billowing skywards. No time for questions. Mom and a pack of neighbors converged on the fire with all the tools they could muster: hoes, shovels, buckets, and blankets, none of which did a damn thing.
When I first met the fire posse, I was running wind sprints between the fire and the creek with a one-gallon bucket. Like Brian, I was in a full sweat and covered in black ash. The only difference was that I was in cutoff blue jeans, not my camo shorts. We found twins that dressed the same to be odd.
Barely able to talk, I tried to tell my mom I did not think her blankets would work. She was a strong, proud woman, and assured me that the blankets were the solution. Ordinarily, my mom could take care of everything. Nothing ordinary about this fire, unfortunately.
All the neighbors charged confidently up the hill. This confidence quickly eroded as they witnessed the second coming of the atomic bomb. No one could get within ten feet of the blaze, so hoes, shovels, and blankets were out. The buckets of water instantaneously transformed to steam before they hit the flames. The blankets, when they could get close enough, burnt like Underoos dipped in gasoline.
Now all the kids and adults were losing their shit, especially Brian who had now rejoined us. Seeing Mom and Brian panicking really pushed me over the edge. They were both shoveling dirt with an inefficient spasmodic motion. My vision blurred with tears as I thought about all our friends who would die in the fire that we started to entertain ourselves. Was the world about to end at the hands of the Weathington Boys? Everyone retreated. Mom called the fire department.
We were sent to our room in hopes of calming us down. This is exactly what did not happen.
As I have mentioned, Bremen is a very small town. The fire department and the police station were in the same building and staffed by the same people. Unsure of exactly what type of catastrophe they were being called to, they split up and brought both the fire trucks and the police cars. Tension was escalating much like the fire roaring in the distance. Like most small towns, we also had a collection of ambulance, fire truck, and police car chasers. Anytime they were dispatched, the same parade of people followed. This procession then attracted any and all nosy neighbors, who then had to call their friends who called their friends to come see what in the Sam Hill was going on in Mountain Shadows.
Every time we glanced out the window, the crowd was bigger. As it grew, so did the level of anxiety in the room. When the crowd was roughly over 200 people, something unique happened. I hate to admit it, but the Weathington Boys officially went into freak-out mode. This is not the same as rage, anxiety, panic, or fear. It is where all rational thought takes off like O.J. after he found his wife and her boyfriend had fallen and impaled themselves on his butcher knife 43 times. Not including the time Brian spent the night in a dumpster in college, this was the one and only time either of us completely lost our shit.
The firemen took all their trucks and equipment to the fire. They were outmatched. Their only hope was to dig a trench around it and hope it would burn itself out. The fire was all but forgotten in our minds; we had moved on to our imminent jail time and were not going in without a fight.
As far as Brian and I were concerned, the police were not going to take us alive. We built a barricade by cleverly arranging our bunk beds directly against the back wall extending straight into the door. Brian and I got out the pellet guns.
“What about the 10-pump rule!?!”
“Screw the 10-pump rule!”
Once our guns were fully pumped and we were in position I noticed one of the straight kids was trembling in the corner of our bedroom. When he uncovered his face I realized it was the kid from Syria. Solid kid, but he would need years of training to be ready for this level of shit show, training he most likely would have received in his homeland.
“What’s going on?” Syria said with a shaky voice.
“They’re gonna bust in here and take us to jail!” Brian yelled, froth in the corner of his mouth.
Syria was given a bat; he had not been awarded his pellet gun merit badge yet.
The police chief knocked on our door and told us he was coming in. He should have asked. It did not take him long to realize this was not going to be a routine traffic stop. Irritated, he told us he was going to bust in the door. This was gasoline on the fire. Pun intended. It was kind of like the last scene in Young Guns where Charlie nuts out, but instead of Charlie, picture two Ultimate Warriors on meth and you have the scene in our bedroom.
The guns were out, and we were shooting to kill. You would have to be lucky to kill someone with a pellet gun, but God knows we had them pumped up enough. Syria was now in the fetal position in a corner. To his credit, he had not released the bat. However, he was dead to us; we knew he would not be a factor in this battle.
Brian and I continued to pepper the door with pellets every time the cops shoved the door hard enough to open a crack. We were really coming into our own. Maybe they were snickering on the other side of the door, but in our minds their guns were drawn and they were coming in for the kill. We were not backing down.
The standoff continued for several hours as they would regroup and try other strategies. They talked to us, tricked us, and even attempted a sneak attack to ram open the door. Doors are always busted open on TV with little effort. Not to toot our own horns here, but we did fend them off. Not this door. Not this time.
Our next move was to survey out the window. Our room was up about fifteen feet from the ground, a fall that would hurt even the most durable of kids. A tree was about an eight-foot leap from the windowsill. We had the window open and were preparing our Jimmy Superfly Snuka escape, when reason knocked on the door.
Eventually they sent in their only hope: Mom. She calmly told the officers if they wanted her to talk us down, they would need to be out of sight and silent. After 20 minutes of talking, we agreed to remove the barricade and come out. I would like to believe that my mom was not a part of the next scene.
Bremen’s finest sprang out of hiding in full SWAT formation. They grabbed us and dragged us to the dining room table in cuffs. Syria was left hiding under the bed. I guess given the fact that we had been shooting at them, this was indeed necessary and appropriate force.
At the dining room table in cuffs and cutoffs, the cops read us our rights. Brian and I both tried to wipe away the tears leaving us looking like bizarre white-eyed raccoons. This was the only time I would ever see Brian cry. We had officially lost our criminal virginity.
Eventually, the crowd dissipated and the fire was safely sealed off if not totally under control. It was still smoldering two months later. As part of our probation, the firemen and cops left us with some harsh documentation outlining what we could and could not do for the next three years of our lives.
When it was all said and done, my family took their places at the dinner table. This would have been a very appropriate time for them to beat and berate the shit out of us. However, they did not. My parents knew we were shaken up and were truly scared for the first time in our lives; add to that the exhaustion of fire fighting, sprinting, freaking-out, and the armed standoff. They trusted we had learned our lesson and were on a path to being normal members of society.
They should have beat the shit out of us.