I’m one of three girls. My sisters and I grew up playing with Barbies and My Little Ponies. Sure, we ran around outside and could be rough and tumble at times, but for the most part, we were girly girls. When I became the mother of boys, I didn’t really know what to do with them. Thankfully, Wyatt and James were easy. They wanted to play with Hot Wheels and tractors, the mud and ride their bikes.
As they got older, their fascination turned from the cute tractors and Hot Wheels cars to Airsoft guns and playing Army in the yard. I can’t tell you how many times I hollered at them, “DO NOT SHOOT THOSE GUNS IN THE HOUSE” and Joe threatened to break their Airsoft guns a time or two after Violet caught a couple pellets to the butt – which Wyatt said was an accident.
All of this I was prepared for in some ways, but what I wasn’t ready for was how boys like to blow things up, for no reason whatsoever. They just like to blow them up to watch ‘em go boom. Wy’s fascination with explosives began to be concerning one winter when he almost blew himself, and the rest of our house, sky high.
I direct plays for the drama club at SWCC, so I typically save old liquor bottles to use for stage props (for the shows that need to have stocked bars – that we stock with tea, of course). Little did I know that Wyatt had been taking these empty Jim Beam bottles and putting rags he had soaked with linseed oil in them, and then tucking the bottles away in a cabinet in the garage. I just thought that someone had been pitching the bottles. I even did a, “I suppose ‘Not Me’ is throwing away the bottles that I need for the play away?” rant and was quite angry about it.
Meanwhile, the bottles were hiding in the garage cabinet absorbing the flammable linseed oil, unaware of my rant. Wyatt, who was fully aware, just played innocent: “Yeah, I don’t know, Ma.”
I did become fully aware of their presence one winter night on the way home from Corning. Violet and I had gone over for gymnastics, and we were about a mile away from the house when I said, “Violet, does the house look yellowish to you?”
Violet said, “Yeah. Kind of smoky, but it’s a little foggy out.”
She was right, it was foggy out and my heart slowed a little bit.
Until the house just kept getting yellower and smokier, the closer we got. I began to panic, as any mother would do.
I couldn’t get into the driveway fast enough. I sped up and was about to leap out of the car when the door to the garage slowly opened. Yellow smoke rolled out. Then Wyatt, calmly stepped forward.
“Um. Hello, Mother. Everything is under control here. No need to panic.”
Immediately, I panicked.
“I put out the fire.”
“Yes, more like a fireball, if you will. It happened when I tested the rag in my bottle.”
“What rag? What bottle?”
The Jim Beam bottles! I had located “Not Me!” but I couldn’t enjoy this small revelation because there was smoke everywhere, and Wyatt had almost killed everyone.
I called Joe and frantically started telling the tale, but then just said, “Talk to Wyatt!” as I ran around screaming and stomping and flailing. Basically panicking. Not my finest hour.
Joe remembers saying, “What happened?”
Wyatt said, “I had a minor explosion, but everyone is okay.”
Joe sighed and said, “We’ll talk when I get home,” and hung up the phone.
Wyatt turned to me, ready to face the music.
“You’re lucky you didn’t kill everyone! Also, where are your eyebrows?” I yelled.
“They were a casualty of war, as were my arm hairs,” he said stoically.
I stared at him, trying so hard not to laugh (which was easier now that I knew the house hadn’t burnt down and the children were alive), “What happened? Just tell me.”
“Well, mother. I was trying to build Molotov Cocktails, and decided to test one. I got the lighter just close to the rag and it went woosh! Just kind of spread everywhere! Like napalm. It was like Vietnam in here. But I have managed to wash the walls down, so I got all the soot off. And I didn’t catch anything on fire. It was more like this big ball of fire. Like a woosh! And a swish swish. I really can’t recreate it. It happened so fast. But I grabbed the fire extinguisher and sprayed it ... so I just have to clean that stuff off. I mean, it’s like 20 degrees out, so it’s kind of cold in here … but this is my mess. I’m prepared to clean this up.”
“Wyatt. Do you have any more of these cocktails?” I said through gritted teeth.
“I went ahead and threw those away. Thought I’d do you that courtesy, Ma.”
I looked at him and said, “Okay then. You clean this up. You can talk to Joe when he gets home,” and I turned on my heel and went into the house.
I will never forget the sight of that garage door rising up, the yellow smoke rolling out and the tall, young man slowly walking toward me with a “Hey, what’s up?” expression.
When I went inside, I told the other kids what had happened and they all were shocked that they had been so close to peril and lived. Then I hugged the girls telling them that though they are dramatic, I’m appreciative of how their hobbies don’t include explosives and near death experiences.