Prompt text: This is one of Fool’s suggested prompts from last year, and it is simply “the worst childhood memory.” Interpret as you will.

Author note: I don’t know if this constitutes the worst, but it is easily one of the first that came to mind.

“What should I get next Dad?”

“I don’t know, son.  How about you grab another one of those Roman candles, and we’ll shoot that next,” Pop replied.

“Can I light it?”

“Sure, but you need to be extra careful.”

I ran back to the car as fast as my legs would carry me.

I think I was six or seven years old at the time.  It was Fourth of July week, and I was trying to make the most of my time out of school.  We were on the road to the Hueco Club, a private country club on the far northeast corner of El Paso.  Pop had access to it through work.  The Club had a big swimming pool, softball fields, playground and I thought maybe a golf course (but I could be wrong on that last).  We’d go out there and knock ourselves out in the pool during the hottest days of the summer.

Because the Club was located outside the city limits, it was also a prime location to go to to set off fireworks.  The stands were set up all along Montana Avenue on the way to Hueco Club Boulevard.  The road from Montana to the front gate of the Club was maybe half to three quarter’s of a mile, with absolutely nothing on either side except desert sand and tumbleweeds.  In the run-up to the Fourth, a lot of families would go out to the stands, buy the big variety boxes, and then while away a couple of hours sending pyrotechnics skyward.

This summer day was no different, and I loved seeing all the explosions from the different types of fireworks.  I think I liked these ones that looked like tiny silver flying saucers best.  They’d spin off the empty beer can Pop would set them up on like flaming frisbees, sparks shooting every which way.

It didn’t happen this particular night, but I do have recollections of being out there one night and Pop getting nailed in the ankle by something called a Texas Twister gone horribly wrong.  Pop had a bout with polio in his youth, and as a result he can walk but not very well.  So when the thing fell off the “launchpad” and landed pointed towards Pop, he tried to get away as fast as he could but that wasn’t nearly fast enough.  Shot straight into his ankle like a torpedo and then ricocheted off.  His foot swelled up like a watermelon for days.

This particular night would be a different mishap.  I went to get the Roman candle like I’d be instructed and ran back quickly.  Pop had just set off a couple of bottle rockets and was on the ground getting the beer can set back up and anchored.  I leaned over to hand him the Roman candle and as I recall it (as best I can 30 years later), he turned towards me not realizing I was so close or bent over to hand it to him.

With a lit punk in his hand.

I remember feeling a burst of pain like the first time you touch something hot that you don’t realize is scalding.  Under those circumstances, you snatch your hand back and the residual heat from the burn just throbs in your hand.  If you’re lucky you don’t have blisters or scars from that sort of thing.

In this case, the punk caught me right at the corner of my eye by my nose.  I don’t recall if it was right or left, but there’s a small bump on the corner of my right eye that isn’t on the same corner of my left.  That makes me think it was the right eye I was millimeters away from losing.

After the shock of the initial burn subsided, it was a searing sensation that remained and I found it near impossible to open that eye at all.  I was absolutely bawling, freaking out, certain that I’d lost my eye or that it was horribly damaged and would have to come out.  Pop was staying calm as he could under the circumstances.  I remember he had my mom come over and grab me and drive me back to the club itself to try washing the eye out.

I don’t remember how loud I was crying, but I’ve got to think I was an absolute banshee of pain and fear.  The cold water rinse made it possible for me to open my eye ever so slightly, but the pain really was overwhelming.  We washed it out as much as we could.

I honestly don’t remember if it was an emergency room visit that night or in to see the doctor the next morning.  I remember a gauze eye-patch and medicated drops that were antiseptic and hand a pain killer in them as well.  Hell, now that I think about it, maybe it really did touch the eyeball or there was residual damage because of the heat.  Either one is possible, under the circumstances.

To this day, I don’t bat an eye about anything involving gore or blood in most movies.  Violent acts don’t phase me a whit.  But if it has something to do with an eyeball?  Yeah, my stomach gets a little flip-floppy.  In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the snakes in the Well of the Souls was the stuff of nightmares for me.  But almost as bad was seeing Toht with that red hot poker in his hands in Marion Ravenwood’s bar in Nepal.  He was bringing it towards her face and in my mind, it was headed straight for her eyes.  And that scared the crap out of me.

I imagine we all have things that we did or that happened to us as kids that make us question just how the hell it is we’re still alive.  And then there are the stories that we always hear about the kids that weren’t so lucky.  I remember one friend from grade school who moved away and we heard the next year that he had gotten killed just crossing the street hit by a car coming too fast.  Hell, I still remember his name.  Pretty sure that was Mike Bebberniss.

The punk was mine, and I don’t think it would have killed me but I think I’m very lucky that I can read this post right now with both my eyes through corrective lenses.  Sometimes a millimeter or two is the difference between horrible disfigurement and just a story for a blog.

To hell with football.  Life is the game of inches.


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