By Don Kenton Henry
UNCLE WALDO AND THE NUCLEAR TURKEY
“And how did you all come to be covered in wild rice–and say–is that an oyster in your hair, Mrs. Henry?” asked Officer Dawalt. Mom ran her fingers through her hair, removed the article and inspected it. “No … that’s a giblet.”
All Thanksgivings are defined by the sumptuous and traditional feast for which–among other wonderful things–we give “thanks”. But Thanksgiving of 1968 hosted a cornucopia of blessings so bountiful … they might well have been served on the white china platter handed down through generations to my mother. Presentation is half the experience, and the spectacular entrance and carving of the Thanksgiving turkey on that platter was a custom in our household. All else which transpired on that holiday of my fourteenth year was not.
In the history of family holiday memories, it was a day when we were blessed as much for what did not happen, as what did. And a day remembered forever unique for two reasons. The first was a result of my mother’s state of recovery from a successful in-patient surgical procedure. Her full recovery, when it occurred, would be another thing for which to be thankful. But at this point, it had not. Until then, she was unable to spend much time on her feet and therefore could not prepare our Thanksgiving dinner. That responsibility fell to our babysitter, Mrs. Alden, whose husband was a Miami County deputy sheriff on duty this holiday. As her children lived in far-off corners of the country and would not be returning this year, Mrs. Alden would otherwise be left alone. This being the case, and given my mother’s condition, she was invited to join us and volunteered to prepare the bird.
Mrs. Alden was a rather dowdy sixty-year-old who dyed her hair a flaming shade of red cranberries only long to be. This she did at noon, the second Wednesday of each month, at the Golden Curl just off the courthouse square in this, our hometown, Finn’s Landing, Indiana. Mrs. Alden’s bonfire bouffant– resembled a beehive set ablaze with can of Ronsonol lighter fluid–and was coupled with and in stark contrast to her porcelain English complexion. The latter was white as milk from an Old English Goat and gave her an appearance that defies description. That being said, I will attempt the impossible and say she looked as one would picture the Bride of the Abominable Snowman sporting a red wig, ruffled high collar dress, and black orthopedic shoes. (Of course, one should not attempt to picture such things, but this was not our choice.) Subject yourself to more abuse and imagine her long Anglo-Saxon face punctuated by a pug nose upon which were precariously perched maroon colored (I presume to compliment her hair) horn-rimmed glasses framing coke-bottle thick lenses. These made her eyes appear as big as a fruit fly’s. In summation, you now have a fair impression of “Mrs. Abominable Snowman” working as a librarian at the Finn’s Landing Public Library. Except on this holiday, she would not be stamping our library card with her prehensile paw. Instead, she would be serving our Thanksgiving dinner.
Mrs. Alden claimed to be a direct descendant of John Alden, the first settler from the Mayflower to set foot on Plymouth Rock in 1620. 1968 was not the first year we were informed of this historical relationship. Having been with us five years at the time, Mrs. Alden reminded us each November by proclaiming her Thanksgiving turkeys were second to none.
“Magnificent to behold and sumptuous beyond imagination,” she would boast while puffing out her massive bosom and strutting about the house like a barnyard fowl in her own right. The first claim, as to her lineage, I have never been able to substantiate. The second – as to her culinary skills–was yet to be. But one thing was certain, and that was Preston (my younger brother by less than two years), Kevin Hill (several years younger and my best friend at the time), who would be joining us for dinner, and I – grew so exhausted at hearing both we were at the point of apoplexy if forced to one more time.
Mrs. Alden went on ad infinitum about what an honor it was to have a heritage such as hers as well as describing in minute detail what went into the preparation of her turkey. However, this disclosure did not extend to her oyster stuffing. The essential ingredients of it (no doubt provided by the Indians at Plymouth) were handed down through generations of Aldens to our babysitter. She insisted no one, other than her daughters upon her death, would ever know exactly what, other than oysters, went into that bird. All of which made Kevin, Preston, and I more determined to have a hand in it.
Which brings me to the second unique aspect of this Thanksgiving. The one for which to be most thankful. This was the first Thanksgiving we were blessed to have my mother’s older brother, my Uncle Waldo, live with us. Uncle Waldo had been a ball turret gunner on a B-17 bomber, “The Flying Fortress”, in thirty-one air raid missions over Europe and Germany during the Second World War. During his thirty-first, his squadron was taking an incredible amount of ground fire from German artillery when flack from exploding shells pierced the Plexiglas of the ball turret from which he was suspended and exposed below the belly of the aircraft. Among other injuries, a piece of shrapnel came to rest deep within his skull.
The B-17 lost an engine, suffered damage to the controls – including a rudder that ceased functioning – lost all pressure in the cabin, and the oxygen supply cut off. They dropped three miles in forty seconds and leveled off at eight thousand feet where the crew could breathe. Despite this, they made it back to Podington Base, Bedfordshire UK. Uncle Waldo was unloaded on a stretcher, his head and body covered in a blanket, presumed dead. Had he not miraculously managed to survive, he would not have been spending Thanksgiving with us. This, of course, was one more thing for which to be thankful. But it did not mean he had survived unscathed. In addition to a long and jagged scar that began just above his right eyebrow and curved up and over three inches of his now bald skull, Uncle Waldo had a one-inch bomb fragment lodged in the frontal lobe of his brain. Doctors felt it too dangerous to remove and made the decision to leave it where it remained the rest of his life.
While Uncle Waldo was able to do janitorial work at the McGill lumber yard, his dreams of being an insurance actuary were behind him. He had occasional “petite mal” seizures, which were fairly well controlled with daily doses of Phenobarbital. When they did occur, they were usually preceded by a rapid fluttering of his eyelids, and, on most occasions, this would be the extent of his symptoms. These would serve as an indicator it was time to get him to lie down in a dark and quiet room. We were very proud of Uncle Waldo. He was extremely protective of and adored us; we adored him, and, all in all, these episodes were not too much or too difficult with which to deal.
However, what was more interesting to experience were times when Uncle Waldo would claim the shrapnel in his head was an antenna picking up AM radio waves. All manner of activities would be interrupted with his shouting out the call letters, “W-O-W-O”… “Fort Wayne, Indiana”!” Though incredulous, we would mask our skepticism and ask him (in a most respectful tone) for the weather report or the price of soybeans. He was always at least as accurate as the weatherman, and we could not help wonder if he had heard the broadcast earlier on the morning television.
One afternoon, he placed his left hand on his head, aimed the elbow of the same arm toward the ceiling, and rotated it as though seeking better reception, all the while singing “Time of the Season”–a hit song by The Zombies that year. Uncertain whether he was having a religious experience or “tripping” on Phenobarbital, I ran to the radio and turned it on to W-O-W-O. Sure enough–The Zombies were belting out the lyrics, “… give it to me easy”. Soon after, and usually late in the evening when my younger siblings were in bed, he would claim to hear short wave transmissions from “Tokyo Rose,” a radio broadcaster for the Japanese during WWII whose programs were designed to diminish the morale of the American GI. He would also claim to hear those of Japanese “Zero” pilots he was convinced had penetrated the air space over California and were headed toward the Midwest to take out Bunker Hill Air Force base, “Home of the B-52 Bomber”, just nine miles south of Finn’s Landing. He would don his father’s World War I, “Dough-Boy” helmet and pace about the house looking out the window toward the night sky. I was grateful he did not have an air raid siren.
A couple of days before the big day, Preston, Kevin, and I huddled in my bedroom in the basement of our house. We were bemoaning Mrs. Alden’s incessant bragging about her turkey and oyster dressing and discussing how we might bring it to an end or, at least, humble her. Mrs. Alden, while of English descent, had the countenance of a Nazi storm trooper and, day after day for five years, had forced us to choose between either Spaghetti O’s or Campbell’s chicken noodle soup for lunch. She also occupied the television to our exclusion while watching soap operas like “Love of Life” and “Days of Our Lives”. We resented her for this, and there was no love lost between us. But when she proclaimed, “I know you think your mother’s turkeys have been wonderful but mine will make them pale in comparison, and you discard that delusion like week-old leftovers from Thanksgivings past–that did it! We prepared to bring her grand opus down on the big day. And so we came to hatch a plan that would include a new and most substantive and innovative ingredient to her oyster stuffing.
Even at a tender age, Preston was a “McGiver” of sorts. There was nothing mechanical he could not master with a bit of inspection and, at most, a brief trip to the local library. And there was no shortage of supplies with which to work. My father, who moved to Texas after my parents divorced, had been a Navy Seabee during WWII and the Korean War. Seabees were responsible for establishing aircraft landing strips, building barracks, and general construction in remote and hostile environments. A large part of what they did entailed working with explosives, clearing ground, and obstructions. My father came home from the war adept at this and worked in construction and demolition for a while. Upon leaving that line of work, he kept a quantity of supplies, which included black powder, fuses, primers, and blasting caps. Later, as a guide at a hunting preserve, he would excavate and build ponds and small lakes for waterfowl in addition to reloading all the ammunition for the preserve’s firearms. These duties required his continued use of the above-mentioned materials, some of which he left behind in the coal bin of our home. They remained there for our convenience.
Together, we hatched a plan that entailed assembling a small explosive device. Today I suppose you would refer to it as an improvised explosive device or “IED”. The idea was to create the device that would be stuffed into the turkey with the oyster stuffing. Theoretically, when the temperature inside the turkey reached a high point, a turkey thermometer would activate a pop-up stick which would force a connection, complete a circuit from a AA battery and thus create a small spark which would in turn ignite a short fuse inserted into the powder section of a 12 gauge Remington shot gun shell. A shell that’s shot had been removed. This, in turn, would cause the gun shell to explode, turning the turkey to pate.
I cannot provide you the precise details of how the device worked as I am not the mechanical person my brother Preston was, and he is no longer with us to provide the details. However, a few short years later, I believe he contributed segments to the original edition of The Anarchist Cookbook–an underground encyclopedia for the creation of mayhem.
We knew Mrs. Alden would never allow us to assist with the actual making of the stuffing whose recipe she so closely guarded. So the idea was to distract her Thanksgiving morning just long enough to insert our IED in the stuffing, already in the turkey, in the pan, and the oven.
Kevin stayed overnight, and the three of us slept in Preston’s bedroom, conveniently located adjacent to the kitchen. On the morning of the big day, the three of us awakened to the banging of pots and pans. We dressed, left the bedroom and went through the kitchen, where Mrs. Alden was preparing the turkey and other dishes, into the living room. My maternal grandparents arrived from Rensselaer and visited with my mother, who was all made up in nice Sunday church clothes and seated comfortably on the sofa. We tended to all the greetings and family hugs, then retreated to the bedroom under the pretense of showering and changing into our better clothing. We hid the IED there, and it would be easy enough to listen and determine when the appropriate time to implant the device in the turkey arrived. We knew, at some point, Mrs. Alden would have to discard her apron and retreat to the bathroom to clean and freshen up to look her best upon making a grand entrance with her masterpiece. When she exited the kitchen, the plan was for us to enter and Kevin to immediately assume the lookout position at the green door leading to the dining room.
My grandmother was not much of a cook and could be counted on to remain in the living room chatting with my mother. My little sister, Mari Jessica, was ten years old, and my other brother, Mark, only seven. As such, both were too young to be of much help. My grandfather and Uncle Waldo would probably be playing checkers, and all would be watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on television. For a concise period we would have the kitchen and turkey to ourselves.
Our ears pressed against the door from the bedroom, we listened until the banging and clinking of pots and utensils in the kitchen abated and finally ceased. Big fans of the television series, “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and “Mission Impossible”, we synchronized our watches. We exited, and Kevin assumed the lookout position. I opened the door to the oven, removed the turkey, and placed it on the kitchen table. Preston removed the pins that closed the bird’s backside, armed the bomb by inserting the battery, inserted it in the body cavity of the turkey, embedding it in the oyster stuffing, and pinned the turkey closed again. Together, we placed the tray in the oven, closed the door, and slid back into the bedroom. This was accomplished in less than a minute. “Mushrooms and wild rice,” said Preston.
“What?” I asked.
“Mushrooms and wild rice … that’s two of the now not so secret ingredients of her oyster stuffing!”
Preston provided us with a lengthy dissertation on the principles of “turkey fusion”. He assured us the device would explode when the internal temperature of the turkey reached approximately one hundred seventy-five degrees. In the bedroom, he then performed some mathematical calculations on notepaper and concluded it would take approximately five to five and a half hours for Mrs. Alden’s twenty-three-pound bird to explode in an oven preheated to three hundred fifty degrees. A distressed look appeared on his face as he realized this meant detonation could occur just as Mrs. Alden removed the turkey from the oven. Preston had taken the powder from a second shotgun shell and placed it in the first, repacking it with twice the powder a shell would normally contain. While we debated it, killing Mrs. Alden was not our objective. We merely wished to convince her there was something terribly wrong with her cooking methods. To prevent a homicide, Preston performed a few more calculations and determined if we turned the oven’s temperature up to 400 degrees, the explosion would occur with approximately 15 minutes of cooking time remaining. This would assure no one was injured and, at worst, my mom would get a new oven from her insurance company. With his instructions, I slid into the still unoccupied kitchen, turned the oven’s thermostat up 50 degrees, and retreated once more to the bedroom. Now all that was left to do was wait.
There was plenty of time to kill, so Preston, Kevin, and I settled into the living room in front of the television screen. Tethered to its handlers, a giant turkey balloon floated above New York’s 34th Street in Macy’s Parade. (I wondered how long it took to blow up their turkey.)
Ours had been in the oven an hour or so when Mrs. Alden decided to check on it. In a huff, she came through the green door of the kitchen, her shoes pounding the wood floor like hobnail boots as she stormed into the living room cackling like an angry hen and announced, “I distinctly remember preheating that oven to 350 degrees as I always do. I do not know how it happened, but the minute I opened the oven door – I knew something was wrong. Somehow the temperature had been set to four hundred degrees!” She glared at us with a look that caused the blood to run from my head. (I then knew what it was like to be stared down by a Sasquatch.) Preston, Kevin, and I looked at each other, then at Mrs. Alden. As one, we shrugged our shoulders. She maintained eye contact for what seemed an eternity, then said, “I returned the thermostat to the proper temperature … but I certainly hope this incident does not cause my stuffing to be too dry.”
(“I wouldn’t worry too much, Mrs. Alden,” I thought as I returned my attention to the parade.)
The hours passed slowly, and the three of us grew more nervous but no one more than Preston. He took to pacing and eventually biting his nails. When I told him to sit down, he asked me to join him outside. Kevin and I did so, in the side yard of our house, he told us, “When Mrs. Alden returned the oven temperature to three hundred fifty, she threw off my calculations. Because it was on four hundred for an hour but is now fifty degrees cooler–I don’t know how to anticipate when the explosion could occur! It might be a few minutes earlier than when she goes to remove it … but then again (as he bit his nail) … it could be just as Grandma is taking the cranberry sauce out of the refrigerator!
“It will be all right, Preston,” said Kevin looking up at him reassuringly.
“Yeah. What’s the worst that could happen?” I asked.
“The worst that could happen,” he said, “is that Mrs. Alden’s head could be blown off as she opens the oven door!”
I pictured it landing on my mother’s white china platter. “Yeah … I guess that would be pretty bad,” I said. We agreed there was no putting the genie back in the bottle and returned to the living room floor and the television. Snoopy was wearing an aviator hat and floating south along Central Park while the scent of roasting turkey permeated every corner of the house. I looked at my watch and saw it was a quarter to noon. Mrs. Alden checked on the turkey again, and Preston, Kevin, my mother, and I followed behind her. When she opened the oven door and proceeded to poke it with a fork – three of us flinched in unison.
“It should be ready at twelve noon sharp. Right on schedule!” she stated, smiling proudly.”
“Wonderful!” said my mother.
“Gee, that’s great …” said Preston.
“You kids help carry the cranberries, beans, and sweet potatoes into the dining room while I make certain the table is set properly,” said my mother.
I carried the bowls of food to the table with a nervous eye to the kitchen. The allotted cooking time had expired, and still, the IED had not detonated. Given this, I began to hope – no pray – it was a dud and would not detonate. Better to have my grandpa, who always carved the turkey, cut into it, remove the stuffing, and have to explain the explosive device than have anyone actually injured by it.
Mrs. Alden opened the door of the oven and prepared to remove the turkey. Would the movement of the turkey release the plunger and trigger the detonation? The right thing to do at this point would have been to warn everyone to evacuate the house and call the fire department! But, to admit the truth, I was too afraid. I’m certain Preston and Kevin were also. There is no easy way to break it to someone that there is a bomb in their dinner.
All of us seated ourselves at the table, except for Mrs. Alden. The green door swung open, and she strode into the kitchen with the turkey on the platter. Oblivious to the risk involved, she had what I imagine was the bearing of Columbus as he delivered treasure from the New World to Queen Isabella. I thought I heard W-O-W-O playing Pomp and Circumstance on the radio, but it was simply Uncle Waldo humming the tune. Mrs. Alden laid her treasure on the table before us. It was golden brown, a succulent splendor to behold. Its juices rose to the surface in light, little bubbles carrying with them the delectable scent of roasted bird bearing not a trace of gunpowder. Everyone else eyed the prize as if to pounce on it like a panther on its prey. Preston, Kevin and I eyed each other with nervous apprehension. “My, oh my!” said my mother, “I must admit that is the most beautiful turkey I have ever seen!”
“Yes, that is a wonderful turkey, Mrs. Alden. There is an art to making a turkey so beautiful! You have certainly surpassed our expectations!” gushed Grandma. “Grandpa, would you please lead us in grace so we can enjoy this magnificent feast?”
“Hot damn!” said Uncle Waldo.
“Hot damn” was too great a possibility, I thought as I looked at Preston and Kevin. I saw the perspiration on their upper lip and forehead as I felt the same collecting on my own. Grandpa began, “Let us bow our heads … Dear Lord, you have laid the table before us …”
The words of thanks were lost in a sonic ‘kaaaaboom’ accompanied by a percussion of Richter Scale proportions knocking all of us back three inches in our chairs. The table and entire contents of the dining room disappeared in a fog of wild rice, shallots, and oysters! A literal mushroom cloud of mushrooms rose from where the turkey had been a moment earlier; they and oysters rained down upon us. As the fog receded, I felt my face and found it encased in rice. I cleared it from my airway passages, then felt my ears and counted my fingers to be certain they were intact. My eyes apparently were, as they began to look about the room. It was as though the turkey had dissolved into another dimension. Only the white china platter on which it had lain remained. And it was as clean as if it had been washed and wiped dry by Mrs. Alden. However, every inch of the walls, above the level of the dinner table, were covered with rice and bits of turkey viscera. Here and everywhere, the print and pattern of the wallpaper’s “colonial pastoral” theme were broken by a mushroom clinging where a cow’s head ought to have been or an oyster in the back of a cart drawn by oxen. I began to take a survey of the collateral damage in human terms.
Total silence replaced the sound of window glass reverberating from the explosion. I looked around the table at each member of our group. Without exception, everyone’s mouth remained agape, their eyes transfixed straight ahead as in a state of catatonia. All presented symptoms of neurological hibernation. Mrs. Abominable Snowman was frozen in position, an oyster hanging from a corner of her horn-rimmed glasses. The entire pound of Cool Whip my mother had put atop her bowl of cranberries had traveled through space and, like an asteroid, impacted the portion of Mrs. Alden’s head above her hairline. Except for appearing less delectable–I drew little distinction between the image of the Cool Whip atop her red bouffant and the image of it in its rightful place atop the cranberries a moment earlier. In the ensuing seconds, my mother, sister, brother, and grandparents ever so slowly began to exhibit signs of life. Like the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz, as oil was applied to his rusty joints and limbs, each of them began to move first their fingers, then hands, and finally arms as they accessed what damage they may have suffered. Realizing we appeared to have survived without major injury, I looked at Preston and Kevin, who realized the same. An almost imperceptible, wry smile tugged at the corner of their mouths. I realized that assumption was premature when I heard an alternating humming and clicking emanating from the direction of Uncle Waldo. Directing my attention to him, I could see this resulted from his lower jaw and teeth opening and closing against his upper as he hummed at a monotonic frequency that would have repelled large carnivores. His hands were suspended a few inches above the table, palms down, fingers extended and vibrating in unison with his humming. However, his eyes gave evidence of the degree of his neurological trauma. They were rolled back so far in his head they appeared white as marshmallows. (I refer to those of standard size. Not the mini variety.) It was as though his eyes were a projection screen on which the last few feet of an old movie reel played out. But it was his eyelids that alarmed me. They fluttered a rate which made them all but invisible to the viewer–much as the outline of film frames, void of color, speed over a projection bulb causing a movie screen to dim and brighten intermittently. Immediately, I diagnosed these symptoms as indicative of a seizure beyond the petite mal variety we had dealt with previously. But before I could rise to assist Uncle Waldo to his room to lie down, his right arm shot straight into the air, bent at the elbow and his hand planted itself firmly on his bald pate. The humming emanating from his nasal cavities combined with the trilling sound created by the rapid movement of his tongue and uvula and evolved into undulating fluctuations from which words began to form. At first, they sounded like those of a foreign language, then clear as the blue sky over Pearl Harbor on that fateful December 7th, the day which “will forever live in infamy, came the warning, “Jap zeros at six o’ clock! They sank the Arizona!” shouted Uncle Waldo.
“Oh no!” I thought. “He thinks he’s at Pearl Harbor! Is he a radio operator broadcasting an SOS?” I got out of my seat and moved around the table toward him, but before I could reach him, his eyes rolled back down until his pupils focused directly in front of him and his hand came off his head. He leaped from his chair like a launched missile, skirted the table, and made a beeline to his bedroom. Everyone looked at me as if for an explanation of what was happening. I knew immediately what to expect. (Or so I thought!) Before I could catch up to him, he had emerged from his room. I had correctly guessed he would be wearing his father’s WWI doughboy helmet but had not predicted he would be carrying his M1917 Enfield Field Rifle! I knew it was functional because he had used it to save our beagle from a rabid squirrel on a recent trip to the country. While I did not know if it was loaded, at this point, I did not like the look of things. He ran headlong past me to, then through, the front door of the house. Everyone remaining at the table jumped up as one and, along with me, rushed after him. I hadn’t even cleared the door frame when I saw him on the steps below me, Enfield aimed high, almost straight up at some invisible target in the sky.
“Banzai, my ass! I’ll get you, you little yellow …..!” the rest of what he shouted drowned out by the retort of a .30 caliber round discharging into the airspace over Indiana. Whatever further cries came from his foam-flecked lips were also lost in the sound of a second shot.
By the time I reached him and grabbed the rifle, attempting to take it from him, grandpa had joined us and succeeded in doing so. “Waldo, Waldo, it’s all over now. Everything is going to be all right.”
“I think I got one! His Zero went down over the A&P Grocery up 5th Street!” claimed Uncle Waldo.
“Yes, yes you did! That was a tremendous shot, Waldo. Now–let’s get you inside,” grandpa said, taking him by the arm.
I looked up and felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. Every front porch on our street was filled with neighbors who had been enjoying their Thanksgiving dinner. They all stared at us in disbelief. Mr. Bud Lutz, Editor in Chief of the Finn’s Landing Tribune, stood on his directly across the street from our home. His arms were folded across his chest, and a most serious look of concern across his face.
“Everything under control over there, Marietta?” he called to my mother.
Before she could respond, I answered, “Everything is fine, Mr. Lutz. Uncle Waldo just repelled a Japanese airstrike!”
Assuring Uncle Waldo we were all safe, thanks to him, we ushered him into the house and into his bedroom. Once there, we convinced him to lie down with a dark, damp towel over his eyes. As my mother went to get his Phenobarbital, we heard the first sounds of the police siren. Not long after, Officers Cary Dawalt and Sergeant Wheeler arrived at our door. I answered it followed by the rest of the family.
“We have a report of shots fired at this residence. What’s the situation?” asked Officer Dawalt of my mother. We all stepped outside onto the porch so Uncle Waldo would not hear the commotion and become further disturbed. My mother and grandpa attempted to explain things to Officer Dawalt. Somehow they left out an account of the “turkey of mass destruction” which initiated Uncle Waldo’s air defense. But they did go into his history of being something of a war hero and the injuries he endured defending our country.
“It was just the excitement of the holiday and his desire to protect all we have to be so thankful for, that triggered this episode,” they said. “You can understand how a piece of shrapnel that large in your brain could interfere with your thinking.”
“And how did you all come to be covered in wild rice–and say–is that an oyster in your hair, Mrs. Henry?” asked Officer Dawalt.
Mom ran her fingers through her hair, removed the article, and inspected it. “No … that’s a giblet.” She looked back up at him and continued, “Let’s just say there was a problem with the pressure cooker, but luckily, no one was injured and it’s all over now.”
Sergeant Wheeler gave her a quizzical look and was about to inquire further then, as if thinking the better of it, decided to let it go. Then he tried to get either my mother or grandfather to agree to sign a mental health warrant, allowing the officers to take Uncle Waldo to the nearby Logansport State Mental Hospital for observation. But they refused to do so.
When Mr. Lutz, who was still on his porch observing all that transpired, was asked and refused to provide a statement or issue a complaint, the officers decided not to press charges for discharging a firearm in the city limits.
“However, for the sake of the public’s safety, we will have to confiscate the rifle your brother fired,” they told my mother. “As long as it remains in his possession, he remains a threat to the community,” stated Sergeant Wheeler.
“But he was only protecting us, Mister Officer,” said my little brother Mark staring up at the red-haired Sergeant who, at approximately six foot four, towered over the seven-year old.
“Protect you from what, son?” asked Officer Dawalt, leaning down and addressing Mark with a gentle look and manner appropriate for addressing a small child and highly commendable in an age proceeding sensitivity training.
“Why them little yellow bastards!” said Mark pointing his hand toward the sky and squinting into the sun.
I retrieved the rifle from the house. After some consideration of its sentimental value to Uncle Waldo, being his father’s rifle and all, the officers decided to let him keep it. But this they did only after removing the ammunition and bolt from the rifle, making it inoperable. They then walked to their patrol car shaking their heads, and drove from our once more peaceful neighborhood.
Once again inside the house, everyone was so relieved Uncle Waldo had not been taken away and institutionalized that my mother and grandparents went amazingly easy on Preston, Kevin, and I for our diabolical stunt. They only grounded Preston and me for two weeks, during which we could not see Kevin. “You could have killed someone!” they said, “But thank goodness your Uncle is still with us and no one was injured!”
Grandpa left that day making certain no more bomb-making materials remained in the coal bin after seeing to it they were properly disposed.
Mrs. Alden was not so understanding and, still brushing wild rice from her red hair, tendered her resignation and left for her own home. “You mad little monsters!” she proclaimed as she marched out the front door. “That was the most beautiful turkey I ever cooked!”
Surviving a catastrophe and still not having had a thing to eat, all of us were starving and decided to sit down at the table and have the ham my grandmother had contributed. It, along with the sweet potatoes, had somehow survived the blast. The blast, which–especially in the company of Uncle Waldo–would hereafter be referred to as the “air strike.”
Once more, my grandfather began the prayer thanking God for our health and safety, our great country, and our freedom. This time he was permitted to finish. Under my breath, I whispered, “and thank you, dear lord, for not letting them take Uncle Waldo to the funny farm and putting him on a Thorazine drip.”
Days passed, and no mention of the incident involving Uncle Waldo and his M1917 Enfield rifle in front of our home made it into the Finn’s Landing Tribune. In fact, thereafter, when Mr. Lutz stepped out on his porch to fetch the morning paper if Uncle Waldo happened to be on our own–his eyes patrolling the horizon for the next wave of Japanese Zeros–Mr. Lutz never failed to come to attention and snap a salute in his direction. And these were all things for which to be uniquely thankful regarding that Thanksgiving Day in 1968.