When I was fifteen I worked at Worth Scout Ranch one summer as a merit badge counselor. It was my first job and paid something like $50 a week (maybe less since it has been far too long to remember but it was not much). However the place itself and my time there was worth much more than the pittance the Longhorn Council paid us with its mesas and the Brazos River downstream from Possum Kingdom Lake and its dam.
On the Brazos itself various merit badges were taught like swimming and lifesaving and also canoeing too. The river itself, like most rivers and streams around here, is not real clear but at least it was a little cooler than being on the shore in the 100 degree summer heat. And one night we used it for something else that is not something you can earn a merit badge for.
One July 4th weekend some of the older boys who could drive went and bought fireworks for those of us who wanted them. It was very dry that summer so we dared not shoot them off in the middle of camp for fear of setting the whole area ablaze. Instead someone suggested we go down to the river since the Scouts were not there on weekends and the few adult staff was nowhere to be seen either. It was a perfect opportunity to have some non-sanctioned fun.
When we got to the bottom of the hill and the river side someone had the revolutionary idea that we team up in canoes and have a bottle rocket war whilst going to and fro on the water in the dark. And that is exactly what we did.
I do not recall who was my canoe mate, maybe it was Glen Alred or Paul Taliaferro (from Denton) who were my friends but regardless of who it was we launched and started going back and forth in the dark. The only way you could target another canoe in the country darkness was by hearing someone talk or their paddle stroke’s swish or better yet gain a visual sighting of their orange glowing “punk” which was used to light the bottle rockets themselves.
So the naval carnage began. You could see the ghostly punks going back and forth and then the flash and trail of a bottle rocket would erupt as it was lit up and fired at an enemy “vessel”. We fired them by lighting them and then tossing them down a metal tube which was then aimed or did it free style by simply holding the lit rocket lightly and pointing your hand at the target and off it would go when it ignited (you did not get burned by the way). The battle went on with shit talking and dares, and splashing paddles too – a hastily evolved tactic to put out the enemy’s punk and thus suppressing their fire, plus an occasional hit on an enemy “warship” or “crewman”. Admiral Nelson or Admiral Nimitz we were not but it was great and jolly fun and no one got hurt. Until we all ran out of bottle rockets that is. And so the ageless waters of the Brazos became calm and peaceful again and we all put the canoes up and walked back the hill to out tents on Staff Hill. Nowadays you’d be arrested sent to jail for inciting violence or something lame like that.
And that is the point, as a culture we have lost the ability to have some fun since we are risk averse and try to require “zero-tolerance” of anything that might mean a skinned knee or the like. That’s a shame since I bet many of the now always coddled kids won’t have a clue what to do in some really dangerous situation they might one day face. Their helicopter parents won’t be around in such an event to teach them to remain calm under fire like a little mostly harmless bottle rocket war on the Brazos River did that year. It’s funny what an experience like that will teach you when you look back on it as an adult. So don’t fear the bottle rockets in life y’all……