One place where we experienced many of our boyhood adventures was at the pond near the fertilizer factory. Several convenient paths were available, but we usually went through the field behind my house, past the big oak tree, until we came to a dirt road. We would travel down the road to the railroad tracks then follow the railroad tracks until we reached a trail that led down into a small valley where the pond waited.
The pond was an exotic place. Small trees, high weeds and bushes surrounded the pond for several acres. Places to hide. Places to explore. Wildlife: Rabbits and snakes.
This day, Charlie, Ernie, Knox and I were headed to the pond to set off fire works. (Our parents had banned such activities in the neighborhood after complaints of crying babies, dropped coffee pots, and sleepless second shift workers.) Of course, Dinah (my dog), and Spot (Charlie's dog), accompanied us.
On the way we were alert for snakes. We needed to add to our collection. (Presently, we had over twenty snakes in a pen we had built behind Charlie's garage. The pen was "naturalized". The bottom of the pen was off the ground about four feet. The floor of the pen was covered with dirt that surrounded an old dishpan filled with water and a few rocks. Weeds were planted in the dirt and tree limbs were included for climbing. Wire screening formed the enclosure. Our population included rat snakes, water snakes, king snakes, garter snakes, and ring snakes. We also had a pygmy rattlesnake in a separate pen that our parents did not know about.) However, catching live snakes when Spot was along was difficult. If you were not observant and quick, Spot would already have the snake in his mouth using it as a whip. He was probably the best snake killer in Florida and maybe the southeast. Big snake, small snake. Spot was not particular.
It was late winter and a little cool for North Florida. You could see your breath in the air. Occasionally, a rabbit scurried through the brush and off Dinah and Spot would go in pursuit, only to return later with nothing but hanging tongues. It was a still, quiet morning. You could hear the dogs panting, the brown vegetation crackling as we trod over it, and Knox's untied shoelaces flopping.
When we reached the pond, a morning fog was shrouding the surface. This made it seem even more exotic and mysterious. For a while, we sat quietly and watched the sun burn away the mist. The dogs, sensing the moment of reflection, lay quietly by. Ernie appeared to be dozing. It was hard to tell with Ernie. Charlie soon broke the solitude by farting loudly and yelling "no pokes" before we could reach him with our fists.
We set off a some fire crackers under tin cans, let a few "lady finger" fire crackers explode while holding them pinched between our fingernails, and ignited rockets that we aimed at birds perched on nearby limbs. Then we were ready for more adventure.
I suggested that we go out on the pond on our raft and throw firecrackers at the frogs along the bank. (The past summer, we had built a small raft using two large inflated inner tubes with boards tied across the top as a deck. We frequently used it for bullfrog gigging at night). Charlie had a better idea. We would split into two teams. Each team would have half of the cherry bombs. One team would take the raft out on the pond and the other would stay on the bank. We would then throw cherry bombs at each other. Sounded reasonable.
Charlie, being the natural leader (older and bigger), decided the teams. Charlie and I would take the raft and Ernie and Knox would stay on the bank. Reasoning: Ernie was big for his age (and still is) and the raft was not large and not very stable; Charlie did not trust Knox on the raft and especially with lit cherry bombs. (Cherry bombs were very powerful firecrackers. They were round and red with a green fuse. They could send a hubcap several hundred feet into the air).
Charlie and I carefully boarded the raft. We poled to the center of the pond through the cold, slimy green, water. The war began.
Cherry bombs flew. Explosions reverberated through the valley. Initially, Charlie and I were at a disadvantage. It was difficult to light fuses on the shaky raft while dodging projectiles and even more difficult to throw without toppling us into the gooey water. The team on the bank had not made any direct hits, but several bombs had exploded dangerously close to our supporting inner tubes.
Because the team on the raft was forced to be more deliberate, the team on shore was the first to exhaust their ammunition. Charlie and I moved in for the kill. As Charlie poled the raft closer to the bank and I threw the cherry bombs, Ernie and Knox realized they were in trouble. They began scurrying to collect sticks and rocks to throw. We were able to evade these missiles and continued toward our foe. We crept closer. Knox, in defensive desperation, heaved an empty coke bottle.
The coke bottle drew a high arc in the air. End over end it came. As if in slow motion, one end would reflect sunlight, and then the other end would sparkle green as it rotated through space.
It was a strong throw and the bottle would have probably gone safely over our heads. But as the weapon approached, Charlie struck at it with his pole. The bottle did not shatter but glanced off the pole, rotating once more in the air, and striking Charlie very firmly in the forehead. Charlie stumbled backwards, upsetting the raft and there we were in the cold, murky, green water. We swam towards shore. Charlie half unconscious and bleeding profusely.
We reached the bank of the pond and climbed out, cold and covered with algae. Charlie started yelling for Knox. Of course, Knox was not around. When the bottle hit Charlie, Knox knew he had committed the unpardonable crime and had run for home. He was probably home before we were out of the pond.
Amazing that he could run faster with his shoes untied.
Knox didn't leave his house for a week.