Growing up in Muncie, my friends and I shifted from one favorite activity to another about as quick as the weather changed…and, in Indiana that was pretty quick. One summer, we might all be into baseball for a few days, then it would be neighborhood-wide games of army or hide-n-seek. Another summer, we’d be into jumping ramps with our bikes or building a fort on someone’s seemingly abandoned piece of property.
One particularly dangerous period involved the creation of “Tennis Ball Cannons.” I think it was my friend Jerry who introduced it to me. Now, before I explain it, you, the reader, need to understand that you cannot build these “safely” with today’s materials. The materials just aren’t as robust as they were back in the 70’s. And, I put “safely” in quotation marks because even then, we really couldn’t do it safely.
A tennis ball cannon was made from three soda cans and duct tape. In those days, pop cans were more cylindrical than they are now. They didn’t taper down on the top and bottom and they had nice heavy rims. Anyway, without giving enough detail for some ridiculous kid to duplicate it, you duct-taped the three cans together, removing some specific layers (I’m not telling you which layers and how much) in the middle, and completely removing the top of the top can inside the heavy rim. Then, by putting a hole in the side of the bottom can, you could introduce an accelerant…lighter fluid. By pushing a tennis ball into the top (and it fit very nicely…quite snugly), and by squirting some fluid in the bottom, you got a very potent cannon.
I can recall standing in the middle of 21st street and shooting a tennis ball into the sky so high that you couldn’t see it anymore.
Then, a few seconds later it would reach its pinnacle and start to fall back to earth. After it bounced a few times, you’d go collect ball with all the fuzz singed off and reinsert it for the next shot. Cool stuff.
That’s what my teenage mind thought.
I am pleased to say that this particular activity got nipped in the bud before anything tragic happened. There was very little that I did that I didn’t introduce to my nephew, David. He was four years my younger and we were really more like brothers than uncle/nephew. (In fact, that is still the case.) So, eventually I carried my cannon to Monroe Street to show him how it worked.
With him in tow, I sat it up in the middle of the street. Loaded it up. Squirted in the fluid. Lit it.
It was a beautiful shot. You could see the flames of the fireball as it rose out of sight! So cool!
My sister, his mother, stepped out on the porch. “What are you doing?” she asked.
I was just innocent enough to not realize that I needed to hide this wonderful, little homemade disaster-waiting-to-happen from the wandering eyes of the adults in my life. “I’m shooting off my tennis ball cannon! Come on out and watch. It is soooo cool!”
So, I shot it off for her a few times. Phlummpp! Phlummpp! Phlummpp!
She watched. She seemed to think it was pretty neat. She didn’t say much.
She tattled on me to mom.
And before the night was over my cool cannon was history. Mine was gone and so were the ones that my friends had made. Our foray into the firearms business was brought to an abrupt conclusion. We didn't even get to join the NRA.
Now I do realize that it was for the best that she brought that segment of creative play to an end. However, at the time, I thought she was worse than the offspring from the union of a Klingon/Romulan marriage. I decided to shun her. Shut her out of my life. I vowed to never speak to her again, and I was true to my word for about a month. She would come over…I’d leave the room. She’d follow me…I’d ignore her. Not a word. Anything I needed her to know went through an emmisary.
It was about the worst punishment my fourteen-year old mind could come up with, and in her case, it was quite effective. Pretty soon, she was nearly begging me to give in…so much so that I began to feel sort of sorry for her, and ultimately I decided to forgive her...well, maybe not forgive. I decided to "let it go." To her relief, I relented and allowed life to return to its normal, dysfunctional self. And, we moved on to other, safer activities…like hurling steel darts as hard as we could across the basement…perhaps, that’s the next story.
So, to all you grudge-carrying folks out there…let this be a lesson to you…whenever your older sibling decides to treacherously save you from your own sorry self-destructive actions…
You should forgive them. And, hopefully before you’ve reached age 51.