Grandma and Granddad Studebaker sold the old farm place near Eaton early in the 1960s and moved to a new home in Yorktown. The house we had moved to in Yorktown was just a few miles away. On most Friday nights my family could be found visiting Grandma and Granddad. Occasionally, our family and my uncle’s family would go to Grandma and Granddad’s house for Sunday dinner. These dinners were informal affairs held every couple of months and were often associated with some kind of task that needed to be done around my grandparents’ house. Grandma would almost always cook a big dinner, typically a prime rib dinner or fish that somebody in the family caught during a fishing trip. In the spring we might help clean out around the flowerbeds or help mow the hill that led down to the White River behind their house. A Sunday dinner in the autumn usually meant that we would be raking and burning leaves. We kids would often piss and moan about the work, but it was always mitigated by the time spent with Grandma and Granddad.
One Sunday during my sixteenth spring, Grandma and Granddad had us all over to help clean out their attic. My Uncle Doug was elected to get up in the attic to perform the task of sorting through all of the stuff my grandparents had stored up there. He handed down several boxes, old electrical appliances and other such items to Dad, Granddad, and me. The ladies had the task of examining all of the items to determine who wanted this item or that item and which items should be thrown out or taken to Goodwill.
There was one box of particular interest to me. It contained a bunch of military items that my uncle brought home from his days in the National Guard. There was an old canteen, a belt, a jacket, a few uniform patches, and a bunch of other stuff. There were two particular items that caught my eye. Doug noticed my admiration of the items and asked if I wanted them. I happily accepted them in spite of the stink eye Mom was giving me.
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The Geek Gods smiled upon me during the summer of 1978. Star Wars was re-released and had an engagement at the Muncie Drive-in. More than once that summer, my neighborhood pals and I rode our bikes or walked over to Bradford Park to sneak around the drive-in to the trailer park on the other side and the hole in the fence between the two properties. Every time we went over there we found a small crowd of kids our age and a few adults and often found the same people each time we went over to watch the movie.
As luck had it, on the Saturday during the movie’s run at the drive-in my family played host to the Witter family. Knowing that Brad was coming over meant that I had to make plans for our latest wave of teenaged terrorism. Fortunately, I had recently obtained the tools we needed.
As soon as the Witters arrived, I took Brad to my bedroom and showed him the contents of a grocery bag and told him what I had planned for later that night. He laughed at the idea, not because he thought it was silly but because it was so brilliant. We patiently waited for sunset by teasing and tormenting our sisters and training our brothers in that fine art. We also spent time talking about the TV shows we watched earlier that day – cartoons and the Indianapolis wrestling program starring Dick the Bruiser, Yukon Moose Cholak and Ernie Ladd. We headed for the drive-in shortly before sunset with the grocery bag and its contents.
We sneaked around the drive-in to the hole in the fence, arriving there with time to spare. We settled in to watch the movie with the other kids and the adults who had gathered there. Before the movie started I noticed some weirdo kid looking at the grocery bag. His curiosity got the best of him. He walked up to Brad and me and asked, ”Whatcha got in the bag?”
Brad looked ready to beat the nosy kid’s ass. Before he could tell the weirdo where to go, I pulled out a couple of sandwich bags filled with potato chips and a couple of cans of Coke. “Just a few snacks, not that it’s any of your business,” I responded.
“Looks like you got more’n that in there,” the weirdo pressed.
“He said it ain’t your business,” Brad shot back, his body tensed and ready to pounce. He looked at me and said, “I’m gonna kick his ass.” I shook my head at him.
The weirdo kid looked first at Brad and then at me before he snorted and walked over to his seat. “You ain’t from the park,” he blurted out as he walked off. Brad and I were devastated by his callous remark.
The two of us sat there and watched the movie and enjoyed our snacks for a bit more than an hour before we got up to leave. The weirdo kid stuck his nose in our business once again.
“Hey! The movie ain’t over yet,” he chided. “Where you goin’?”
“What the hell, man?” I said in a raised voice. “What’s it to ya?”
“It’s getting’ to the good part, that’s all!” the weirdo said.
“I’ve already seen this about fifteen times so I know exactly where it is,” I retorted, looking around to see if anyone was impressed by how many times I had seen my favorite movie. Nobody was.
The weirdo shrunk back down. “Yeah? Well, I’ve seen it eight times.”
Before Brad and I left, I stood on my tiptoes and craned my neck to survey the far side of the drive-in, finding an area that was devoid of cars. The weirdo kid cast one last suspicious eye at me. You’ll get yours soon enough, jackass, I thought.
Brad and I sneaked back around to the Bradford Park side of the drive-in, but instead of heading back to my house we walked up to the fence of the drive-in and made our way to the spot that I calculated was the area devoid of cars. Brad and I grinned at each other.
“Should we?” I asked.
He replied, “Hell yeah!”
I removed from the grocery bag the last of its contents – one of the smoke grenades I had acquired from Uncle Doug.
Earlier that spring my uncle saw me examining the two canisters and explained to me that the smoke grenades were used for signaling other units, marking a target or landing zone, or for screening units on the move. I saw a great many more uses for them than what he described. This was one of those uses.
Once again, Brad and I grinned at each other as I pulled the pin on the grenade, making sure to hold down the handle on the side. I held onto it for a second or two before chucking it over the fence. The flight of the grenade was a thing of beauty, silhouetted against the large movie screen. We watched it as the handle flew off with a pop, igniting the fuse in the grenade. We saw a cloud of smoke start to rise up out of the drive-in a couple of seconds after the grenade cleared the fence. The smoke gave a bright red hue to the movie screen as we watched the Millennium Falcon do battle with four TIE fighters. We laughed at the spectacle then took off running once we heard the sound of car horns come blaring over the fence.
We ran for a block or two, laughing the entire way, before we turned around to once more witness our handiwork. The moon was just starting to rise over the drive-in, glowing with a hint of red. Feeling pretty safe at this point, we casually walked the rest of the way to my house joking about the weirdo kid we had earlier encountered.
“There’s not much breeze tonight but it’s blowing in the right direction,” I observed. “Maybe the smoke reached that dumbass kid.”
“Man, I hope so,” Brad said. “You shoulda let me kick his ass.”
“I dunno,” I told him. “He looked like could have hurt you.” I scrunched up knowing what was coming next.
“Ahh, bullshit!” Brad exclaimed as he gave me a mighty shove.
“He could have shoved harder than that,” I joked as I took off running.
Brad caught up with me in no time flat and faked a punch in my direction. We laughed the rest of the way down Sarasota Drive to my house, secure in the naive notion that we were going to have times like this the rest of our lives.