It had been a fairly dull summer when Dad decided to replace the huge garage door. The old one barely rose on the tracks and the old motor could barely pull the full width door after years of service.
Dad had tinkered with the old one for a few years to keep it working rather than spending money on a new one when the house needed other things first. Mom was the only one that parked in there and the day she was late to work because the door wouldn't work was the day Dad had to replace it. It wasn't just the money of a new door and opener that discouraged Dad; although the man had built racecars, airplanes, boats, and most anything else, the garage door stymied him. John and I learned all the swear words there were, plus every colorful way to arrange them when helping him "fix" the old door.
John was my cousin but he was like another brother and his mother and father expected him to help my Mom and Dad when they needed something. Besides, everyone knew the learning experiences (other than the language lessons) were valuable for future life encounters. John and I were "told" the night before that he'd need our help "tomorrow" taking down the old door and installing the new door.
John, sitting there at the dinner table boldly asked,
"Uncle Bob? Are you gonna get all crazy and pissed off? Because if you are, I don't wanna be around for this."
Normally, around our dinner table, the Blacker crew, with one guest, would make a racket clanging forks and scraping spoons chasing seconds in bowls... suddenly, it was so quiet we could hear the dog in the other room groan softly knowing "Uncle Bob" might soon explode!
In a concession that was rare, Dad admitted that something about garage doors escaped him and he'd only ask John and me to help with the heavy parts... and then we could go.
Mom chimed in,
"I'll supervise so there won't be any bullying of you boys!"
Dad's eyes turned red with rage, but she had called the play. Something about that garage door had come between Dad and Mom... something told me Dad was "cut off" (although it took me 20 years to understand how Mom had him "cut off").
The next morning, Dad was barking out orders for us to get up and down ladders to do this and that until Mom, the foreman showed up. The tone changed and soon, the old door, track system, and opener were laying in a heap off to the side of the garage. Mom and Dad scooted off to Sears after giving us 10 bucks for lunch and definite orders to be back at 1 o'clock when they'd be back with the new stuff.
John and I pocketed the money and went in and cleared out the 'fridge.
Soon, they were back and we were unloading stuff and unboxing a door, track system, and... they told us to get lost!
Two boys on two bikes hurled gravel going down the alley!
I got smart and had dinner at John's house!
It was still light out on a summer evening around 8 when we rolled softly down the alley. Dad was there... on a ladder... adjusting this and tweaking that. He crawled off the ladder and pushed the shiny new button and the garage door rolled down the tracks and over the curve... and then lurched, and creaked, and bound... the track system squealed; the support bracing bowed.
"Let's get out of here", I told John.
He was already ripping down the alley and not looking back.
I followed and caught up him with a few miles later when he slowed down feeling it was safer.
"Man? Did you see THAT? I mean, what's up with your Dad? He can build airplanes! But get him around a garage door, and he's brainless!"
"I dunno, John. Can I sleep at your house tonight?"
"Yeah... sure. But, I want to know....", and we talked about it all as we rolled slowly and softly back to my house, late.
When we got back, the door was closed.
It looked like a buffalo had rammed it.
A corner of one panel looked like a beaver had chewed on it.
Another section had a long gouge and wrinkle in it.
We slipped quietly into the basement and collected some stuff to do at his house.
We slipped back out as quietly as we slipped in.
A couple of days later, on Monday, we got back to the house while Dad was at work.
I walked around the garage and came in from the far end and punched the button. The door raised smoothly and returned back softly when I pushed the button again.
"Hey, Andrew! What's all this stuff?" John asked pointing to the workbench.
"Oh, John! Welding gas bombs!"
John's ears and interest perked up when he heard "bombs".
I explained what welding gas bombs were. Big, long, carnival balloons that when filled with welding gas, were lighter than air and floated away until the crepe paper fuse burned to the tied off knot and ignited the perfect mixture in a huge explosion.
It was just past the 4th of July and Dad had filled a few of the colorful balloons. They were 3 feet long, as big around as a thigh, and taken them to a 4th of July picnic out on a farm and showed what a country boy from southern Illinois did for fun.
The balloons were a hit out on the farm. I was amazed by the shock wave that I felt in my chest even when the balloon was hundreds of feet aloft when it exploded. A window in an upstairs window of the old farmhouse had shattered; it was cool!
John didn't get it. He asked me about every step... so I demonstrated every step.
Light the torch, adjust the mixture so it's a perfect blend of oxygen and acetylene, and then snuff it out. The torch system was still pumping out the volatile mixture while I put the nozzle tip into a balloon and inflated it; big and swollen.
I turned the torch off and turned around to see John wrapping the crepe paper around the balloon,
"No, dude... like this!"
I tied the crepe streamer to the balloon where he had just tied the balloon stem shut.
"Oh, I get it now!"
I let go of the balloon in the garage to show him it floated,
"Except one thing, use about 20 feet of crepe because with that short 1 foot piece, the balloon wouldn't float far enough away before it exploded.
John next asked,
"How fast does the crepe paper burn?"
I didn't know how to express it accurately and tried to recall...
Too late. He had lit the crepe paper!
The balloon bounced in the rafters of the garage, half the crepe paper was burned already!
We bolted thru the small swing door we had come in, closed it behind us and both of us leaned our backs and butts hard into it when the explosion threw the door open and us flying across the lawn.
The natural reaction of two young teenagers in such a setting was to laugh and giggle and howl and wipe the gleeful tears from eyes and we did for quite a while.
We had heard glass crashing onto the small sidewalk along the west side of the garage and I walked around to look to see how bad the damage was.
We had blown the whole frame to pieces but I knew how to fix it. John and I had long since mastered the art of replacing windows at his house and ours; this wasn't our first messup!
We came back to the lawn and poked our heads into the garage expecting to see carnage but other than the other window on the east wall of the garage blown out like the west window, everything looked amazingly fine. There was a heavy smell of burnt oxy-acetylene in the air, but that was common almost anytime in our garage.
John and I measured carefully and took our dimensions over to Maine glass. They knew us well and thought the world of us for being two little destructive brats that were smart enough to repair their messes before anyone got home. They cut our glass and gave us some pieces to help rebuild our blown out frames. John glazed them in while I found some paint to match and got everything looking spiffy.
We had just finished up our repairs when we heard the garage door opening; Mom was home!
We glanced around to make sure we had our mess cleaned up and did our best to act normal when Mom walked thru the small door and into the back yard with the garage door slowly closing behind her,
"What have you two been up to? You look guilty; what did you do?"
"Mom? Can I eat and stay at John's house tonight?"
And the next night, and the next few after that.
Early, the next Saturday morning, I came home and found Dad out in the alley. He had his morning cup of coffee in his hand and the look on his face told me he wasn't quite fully awake yet.
He was gazing from the alley toward the garage door.
I looked over at it too and for the first time since we blew the bomb off, saw the garage door blown out from the heavy concussion of the balloon bomb. It had heaved, buckled, but it still hung together at the hinges!
"Dad! You made a mess of that door hanging it! I'm surprised at you!"
He shook his head to express a "no", but something made him accept it... garage doors were not his thing.
Afterword: When John and I had become adults... nice sized adults... and our fathers became older and more feeble, we began to tell our exploits as young lads. We didn't spill all the beans at once. Instead, we slowly began to cop to shit we had pulled throughout our years. Broken windows... yeah; we smashed a few. Rebuild a whole wall we destroyed playing "wrasslin'" while the four parents were away in Vegas; yeah... even got it painted to match! Except Dad had discovered that his supply of that paint had vanished. He figured we'd repainted something; he just never figured we laid up sheet rock and mud first!
When we finally laid the story on him about the garage door, my Mom laughed her butt off! It should be noted that the house in Guntersville; their dream house to retire to... had three garages but no garage doors!