The big show before the big show
We were waiting for the storm. It was one of those warm, muggy midsummer days in Kansas. The kind where the sky has an ominous yellow cast, the air is perfectly still except for an occasional fitful sigh of breeze among the leaves, the ambient electricity makes the skin prickle, and thunder is rumbling threats off in the distance.
It was Saturday afternoon, and we were going about our usual weekend activities.
My father was sitting in a chair just inside the kitchen screen door, reading a newspaper. I was preparing to salute the coming Fourth of July. Thanks to the indulgence of my parents (the Fourth was their wedding anniversary, and their resistance was low), I was in possession of a tidy collection of pyrotechnics that included some truly impressive firecrackers: silver spheres that shook the earth and long red cylinders with a doomsday crack!
My father was a very self-contained man, never flustered, always calm, always in control. I had never seen him startled or alarmed. But his tolerance for electrical storms had been markedly diminished by an event of a few weeks earlier.
He had been in the bathroom shaving. A violent thunderstorm was in progress, and an electrical charge had grounded to a vent pipe that extended above the roof, run down the pipe, arced to the house wiring, and made its way to the light bulb above the bathroom mirror. With appropriate sound effects, the bulb had exploded as my father stood before the mirror, guiding the progress of his razor.
I had not witnessed this episode and so was unaware of its residual effects as I went about my prelude to the Fourth.
The thunder heralded that the storm was very close now. So I hurried a bit as I set one of those sinister red cylinders on the concrete step in front of the bedroom screen door. I lit the fuse and hied myself around the house to the kitchen door, where I stood, face pressed against the screen, observing my father and waiting.
The burning fuse finally reached the charge, and the ensuing explosion would have satisfied the heart of any young boy! The report rolled and reverberated throughout the house, rattling dishes and knickknacks on their shelves. But even as I savored all this sound and fury and concussion, it was overshadowed by something even more awesome.
At the sound of the explosion, and without apparent effort, my father levitated approximately 12 inches into the air and then settled back into his chair with neither his posture nor his newspaper disturbed.
He then turned, saw me standing wide-eyed at the door, and said, with immense dignity; "Son, don't you ever do that again."