Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Cheery Countenance

Today's post is by guest blogger Jane Ray Garrison, author of the "Tragedy's Ark"

Firecrackers and Mother’s Blue Dress

            Fireworks were a big deal in Nigeria. Every Christmas the stores offered a wide assortment of beautifully boxed Japanese explosives. Like sushi, their presentation – before being ignited was part of the experience. Picture a sturdily constructed red box with brightly wrapped objects of interesting shapes and sizes artfully arranged within its borders, and you will understand why many of the missionary kids, including our brother Chris, loved to receive fireworks as Christmas gifts. Of course, if we were going to celebrate the fourth of July, American style, such boxes had to be saved a long time, making the eventual show all the more spectacular.

One year, the hospital side of the Ogbomosho mission’s Fourth of July party was to be held at Rose Cottage, the home of nurse, Amanda Tinkle, whose huge body frame was matched only by her love for children. Hot dogs, marshmallows and a softball game would culminate with a grand fireworks display conducted in the center of the cottage’s roundabout. 

Rose Cottage was one of the few early mission housed left standing even in those days. Typical to its time, the steps leading up to its screened-in-porch were accented on either side by wide concrete banisters. The mothers would sit on the screened-in porch in rattan chairs, the smaller children would sit on the steps, but the older children would stand on the banisters feeling powerful and quite grown-up. The men were naturally in the roundabout hovering over the various colorful packages that each had come equipped to explode. 

That night things were going as expected, with the pajama-clad youngsters hitting each other with sparklers while our mothers chatted amicably. Every now and then, a loud cry would erupt from the little one’s cluster, and we would see the corresponding mom glare at the other child’s mother before quickly jerking her own child away from the duel. But mostly, our attention was focused on the roundabout and the beautiful sprays of green, red, and blue that shot across the sky with lightening speed. We looked in awe when one father held a Roman candle high above his head, and shrieked with delight when another dad lit a string of firecrackers. But the bottle rockets were the undisputed favorite of all! For these, our mother left the shelter of the screened-in porch and with two small children on either side, snuggled down on steps for a full, bigger-than-life view of the entertainment…and this is where I can’t remember. I can’t remember if it was Daddy or some other man who set the rocket in the glass coke bottle and lit it before quickly stepping out of the way.

But something went dreadfully wrong. Instead of shooting up into the sky, the shower of colorful sparks headed right into the small audience sitting on the higher spot. I pressed my body against the screen, hoping that it would bear my weight and that I wouldn’t fall backwards into something like the flowerpot. However, from my vantage point, I could see that not everyone was so lucky. In fact, I could tell that our mother, in her favorite blue dress, was a target just waiting to be hit. Sure enough, before I could even assimilate this information, her dress was ignited into brilliant golden flames that lapped and swirled amongst the ample folds of the garment’s full cut. Before anyone knew what was happening, all “so many hundred” pounds of Aunt Tink were on top of our mom rolling her over and over on the graveled driveway. Mother yelling all the time; “Leave me alone! Leave me alone!”

The near catastrophe called a halt to the fireworks display and we were soon all heading for home – Mother with a giant hole in her dress, the rest of us with downtrodden spirits and un-ignited fireworks under our arms. Sensing the gloom, I felt honor bound to do something to make things better. So, as we walked up our driveway, I sided up to Mother and put my arm around her. 

“Momma,” I said, “Aren’t you grateful for Aunt Tink’s saving your life?” You don’t seem happy.”  

Mother looked away. “Humph,” she said. “Amanda Tinkle didn’t save my life. She just rolled me around in the gravel.”

I didn’t reply. Even then, I knew this was just a show of spunk – a part of my mother, who had fiery red hair and a temper to match. At this point, there would be no convincing her of the peril she had just escaped. Instead, I rubbed a scuffed place on her elbow and silently wondered if she would ever know how glad I was that Aunt Tink did save her life!

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