Holiday Traditions: Entering the New Year with a Bang

 

In my early youth, New Year’s Eve and Independence Day were fairly quiet occasions at home. My father had a pathologist’s view of the downside of firecrackers and other home fireworks. He supervised our early training in firearms at ranges and in the woods, but small explosives and incendiaries were another matter.

Then we were stationed at Fort Knox, KY in 1976. As part of the Bicentennial Year, the Bellmore Johnson Tool Company re-released the Winchester Model 98 signal cannon, a 10-gauge blank-firing miniature cannon. They were all-metal, painted black, and fired by pulling a 10-foot lanyard. My father saw one at the post exchange (PX) and it brought back childhood memories of Boy Scout camp. They had morning flag-raising and evening flag-lowering ceremonies with bugle calls. One of the adult leaders would pull the lanyard firing just such a miniature cannon at the proper moment.

Well, this was obviously both safe and great — wholesome, all-American fun. My father bought one and several boxes of 10-gauge blank shells. Firing produced a roar, a flash of flame, and cloud of smoke, and the cannon recoiled several feet. My father would go around to alert the neighbors before he fired it on the Fourth of July and at midnight New Year’s Eve. Living in a military community, the neighbors were apt to approve and some would even stop by to join in the fun. Some even knew the proper firing drill commands, naturally. This went on through the years at our different duty stations.

One New Year’s Eve at Fort Lewis, WA, my father went around the loop in our housing area to let people know he would be firing the cannon. My parents then had a small gathering of guests for the evening. At midnight, as usual, Dad fired the cannon in front of our quarters, the blast roaring across the loop. My parents then bid their guests good night and my father went inside to clean and oil the cannon, then put it away and went to bed.

Now, New Year’s Day on military posts sees officers paying mandatory social calls on their commanders. As I wrote in an earlier piece, senior officer quarters (houses) were designed for such official entertainment. So, my father put on his dress uniform and, as a military doctor, made the obligatory New Year’s Day call on the hospital’s Commanding General.

There he encountered a neighbor who lived across the loop, a fellow physician, who had not been home earlier in the day when Dad made the rounds giving notice around the loop. This doctor was married and his wife had decorated with white shag carpet. At midnight, they were sound asleep in bed on the second floor. In their basement, their black Labrador retriever, Heidi, was also sound asleep.

When the cannon went off, Heidi dashed from her bed in the basement up two flights of stairs and jumped in bed with them. The doctor and his wife got the dog settled down and sent her back downstairs. Now the kitchen was next to the top of the basement stairway. And who among us has not turned to chocolate ice cream to settle our nerves? So, naturally, Heidi stopped en route back to bed to take a chocolate ice cream container out of the kitchen trash. As she settled her nerves, she dragged the carton with melted chocolate ice cream all over the white shag carpet!

My father was profoundly embarrassed and offered to pay for cleaning the carpet but the neighbor would not accept. At some point thereafter, the New Year’s Eve cannon fire went silent, although Independence Day went off with a bang until they retired and moved to a suburban neighborhood not quite so suited to artillery fire.


In researching this story, I found the same signal cannon is still in production and available for sale.

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There are 10 comments.

  1. Judge Mental Member

    I thought Heidi was going to leave a different sort of mess.

    • #1
    • December 29, 2017, at 12:40 AM PDT
    • 5 likes
  2. Arahant Member

    Clifford A. Brown: In researching this story, I found the same signal cannon is still in production and available for sale.

    Less than a grand? I wonder what the neighbors would say. They’d probably want to borrow it for their holidays.


    This conversation is an entry in our Group Writing Series under December’s theme of Holiday Traditions and Treats. In January, we will be parodying the concept of the open letter. If you’ve ever had a hankering to go off like Emily Litella, this is your chance. If you have never started a conversation on Ricochet before, why not start off with a bang and sign up for Group Writing in January?

    • #2
    • December 29, 2017, at 12:55 AM PDT
    • 1 like
  3. She Thatcher
    She

    Clifford A. Brown: So naturally Heidi stopped en route back to bed to take a chocolate ice cream container out of the kitchen trash. As she settled her nerves, she dragged the carton with melted chocolate ice cream all over the white shag carpet!

    Lovely post and wonderful story. Thanks for sharing it. This part, particularly, made me laugh, because today the mailman delivered a lovely gift box of goodies from a friend (bakery goods, preserves, and a couple of small bottles of liqueurs), dropping the box over the gate and into the driveway.

    Well, the two Great Pyrenees were out, and they soon discovered the box. All that’s left is the cherry preserves, the peach butter and a bottle of Godiva liqueur that they’d made Herculean efforts to remove the cap from, or bite the neck off, from the look of it. There’s supposed to be another bottle somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet. Maybe one of them swallowed it whole.

    Thankfully, no mess, other than the ripped-up cardboard and wrappings, but the story of Levi and Xena’s Excellent Christmas Party Adventure will probably be told and retold.

    • #3
    • December 29, 2017, at 2:36 AM PDT
    • 7 likes
  4. Randy Webster Member

    Clifford A. Brown: Then we were stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky in 1976. As part of the Bicentennial Year, the Bellmore Johnson Tool Company re-released the Winchester Model 98 signal cannon, a 10-gauge blank firing miniature cannon.

    I’d want real shells. What’s the point of a cannon if you can’t blow stuff up?

    • #4
    • December 29, 2017, at 4:41 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  5. Randy Webster Member

    There’s the Friendsville Artillery and Machine Gun Range not far from work. I need to check it out, though I suspect he’s lying about the artillery part.

    • #5
    • December 29, 2017, at 4:59 AM PDT
    • Like
  6. Susan Quinn Contributor

    Love your story, Clifford! My first thought (practical Susan) is that I hope poor Heidi didn’t ingest too much of that chocolate–bad stuff for dogs! I felt kind of sad that you had to end the tradition. It sounded like a wonderful community effort! Thanks.

    • #6
    • December 29, 2017, at 6:23 AM PDT
    • 2 likes
  7. Arahant Member

    Randy Webster (View Comment):
    There’s the Friendsville Artillery and Machine Gun Range not far from work. I need to check it out, though I suspect he’s lying about the artillery part.

    Maybe not. I met this little guy at Old Fort Wayne here in Detroit who was involved in that sort of thing. There is apparently a national organization which has competitions. He was showing me one of his targets from shooting sabots earlier in the week, and was pretty darned proud of his marksmanship.

    • #7
    • December 29, 2017, at 7:58 AM PDT
    • 3 likes
  8. Miffed White Male Member

    For 4th of July we used to go to my Aunt and Uncles lake house. In his later years (he died in 1992 or so) my uncle was kind of cranky. We’d all be hanging out on the pier or in the yard, he’d be sitting on the cabin porch drinking.

    Once the festivities got going, he’d pull out an old german Mauser rifle that he had, and then he’d randomly fire a blank round every 10 or 15 minutes or so. That thing was loud and you’d just about jump out of your skin when it went off. Then he’d wait long enough for everyone to relax and forget about it, then BLAM!

    • #8
    • December 29, 2017, at 1:42 PM PDT
    • 1 like
  9. Randy Webster Member

    I used to know a guy who had 15 or so M1’s. He had one from all but about three of the companies that manufactured them. I mean, Singer made M1’s during the war. We’d go out to shoot at the range on “Rifle Range Road (clever name).” I’d be standing five feet away when he shot, and could feel the concussion. How any rifleman came back able to hear is beyond me.

    • #9
    • December 29, 2017, at 1:47 PM PDT
    • 3 likes
  10. SecondBite Member

    A friend of a friend, someone I have never met and to whom I could not possibly be related, taught his children how to make black powder. Then he took a piece of seamless 1/2 inch gas line, plugged one end with a broom handle, drilled a touch hole, and had a wonderful noisemaker. The last shot of the night (New years or the Fourth) was always a double load to blow the plug out. Playing with dangerous stuff can be a good way to teach caution and the neighbors didn’t seem to mind too much. The dogs hated it, though. At least so I am told.

    • #10
    • December 29, 2017, at 2:26 PM PDT
    • 2 likes