In the distant sky over Northern Iowa, bolts of sharp lighting could be seen thrusting downward like silver swords tossed from Thor's callused hands into the lush distant green cornfields. Most of the locals paid little attention to the dark blue horizon since no thunder could be heard, a sign the distant storm posed no threat at the moment.
The annual 4th of July Corn-Fest events were in full swing here-abouts and the clanging, noisy Tilt-A-Whirl did as much to fill the senses as did the smell of cotton candy, french fries and fresh pies at the Auxiliary Brothers of the Corn concession tent. This was the day everybody left the fields and barns for the one event that everyone would keep in their heart until the next year's event.
In rural Iowa, romances were often cultivated around affairs such as this, so parents kept a close eye peeled for underage hanky-panky. If my memory serves me right, the summer of ‘63 sparked a romance not soon to be forgotten by the local fire chief and others who were attendance that evening.
Perhaps there is nothing more strange of the oxygen breathing species throughout the God's whole universe than a seventeen year-old Iowa farm boy in love. John Troybridge fit that description
As often is the case when you are so horribly confined to your own awkwardness it sometimes takes a non-verbal action to get your point across. In other words, you must physically demonstrate you love somebody, since the very means of human speech are of no use.
John could hardly stand up straight without falling over himself. His huge belt buckle seemed to be a centering pivot between his Levis and new cowboy shirt bought just for the festival. He had radiant blue eyes that stood out on his farm boy tan and blond hair that was so light often one could see the sun-burned head right through his scalp. But it was Mary Flanigan, a red haired, freckled faced, Junior Varsity cheerleader that was no taller than a July stalk of corn that caused him to become delirious every time she came near him. Intended words scrambled about his brain at the very thought of asking her out for a date.
Late in the afternoon as the Corn-Festivities started to wind down for the day, folks would pack the car with kids, potato salad, Broasted Chicken and lemonade and head over to Cleghorn Lake to watch the fireworks display. Blankets were neatly and precisely laid out as to get the full effect of both, food and fire.
Marvin Green, the newly elected fire chief of Cleghorn's Volunteer Fire Department, spent the afternoon carefully inventorying and loading the cases of fireworks for the evening's pyrotechnics show. Probably the most dangerous task he ever performed. Marvin felt honored knowing the town trusted him with the troublesome job. Truth be known, nobody else wanted the job.
About two thirds of the way through the job of setting up the explosives, Marvin sat down. He looked out across the still black western sky. It did not look as if the storm had moved but the humidity started to climb as the hazy afternoon skies gave chorus to the noisy cicadas lodging in the trees about the lake. He swept the sweat from his forehead and pulled out the list and checked off the remaining inventory..
"Rats," Marvin mumbled to himself as he sat down on the tailgate of his dusty red pickup, "I must have forgotten to check off a case of Roman Candles."
John tried to call Mary three times that morning to invite her to the fireworks. He even rehearsed saying the simple word–hello. Every time he got to the last number on the rotary dial, panic overtook him and he hung up. Later that afternoon he intentionally walked by the cheerleader's fund-raising booth where she volunteered.
After walking past the booth at least a dozen times, Mary smiled at his shyness and that was enough of an invitation for him to go over and make small talk, which actually turned into a stumbling act as he tripped over his own feet as he crossed one of many power cords that zig zaged about the carnival.
She tried hard not to laugh at him as he dusted himself off, instead she handed him a handful of bamboo rings to toss over the quart bottles of Dad's Root Beer set around miniature goldfish bowls.
As farm boys went, John had everything, good looks, brilliant smile and he was the star quarterback on the high school football team. He had everything, everything but courage and coordination around that little red haired, freckled faced Mary. She drove him insane, but he could do little to pull himself together while she stood there with those little bamboo rings in her hands.
"Hot lightning we're having, looks like we may get some weather bad tonight," John said as he nervously fumbled with the rings and tossed them, ringing one bottle of root beer. Mary laughed as she handed him his prize bottle. John grabbed three more rings, tossed them and told her, "That's meant not what I said."
Mary reached for his hand and gave it a gentle squeeze and told him to calm down. John gave a sigh then took a deep breath. "Mary will you go with me to the fireworks at the lake tonight."
"I thought you would never ask," Mary replied calmly. "Pick me up at 7:30 and I'll pack some sandwiches and soda."
Marvin double checked the inventory and still came up one small case short of the Roman Candle skyrocket with the loud reports. Evening rapidly approached and he had to finish seting up the rocket tubes and position the fire truck. He knew if he said anything about the missing fireworks the other firemen may loose trust in his ability to guard and keep valuable equipment, so he locked the door of the storage shed and headed over to the lake.
The sky to the west darkened to a blackish green color as the sheet lightning produced its own twilight performances in the distant prairie heaven. A little rumble of thunder could now be heard along with the rhythm of the buzzing cicadas and the chirping of the crickets as they performed for the nervous crowd.
John started feeling guilty about taking Uncle Marvin's set of keys to the storage shed and removing the small case of Roman Candles. He had no idea his uncle counted the fireworks. His plans to take the skyrockets over to the Flanigan farm to impress Mary with fireworks now seemed rather stupid. Her maturity was much higher than his, and he knew it was wrong to steal something to make her notice him.
The rumbling in the west increased as the evening wore on so the fire department decided to start the fireworks a half hour earlier since the locals were getting a bit edgy.
As always the firework show dazzled children and grownups alike. The grand finale ended with a sudden downpour that started with a sprinkle bit finished in a torrent of rain only equaled by the thunder and light of the explosive pyrotechnics. In seemed as if the last hurrah cut open the rain clouds only to drench the applauding onlookers.
I am not sure what is about a grand finale that even a rainstorm can't douse the patriotic rush that runs through the very core of a person's soul. Mary grabbed John's hand and gave it a squeeze as if she needed a big guy to protect her from the ear splitting percussion of thunder. John figured this was the big chance to steal his first kiss from the girl that drove him mad. He knew better than to ask. He thought just shut up and kiss her.
The air had a feeling of electricity. John turned around and looked int her blue eyes. Mary smiled and let her lips touch his. Just as their lips met his a bolt of lightning crashed down behind them and struck his ‘53 Ford pickup. The missing skyrockets, with loud reports detonated, blowing the back of his truck to smithereens.
After that, John knew he was in love.
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