Monday, October 31, 2016
The Secret in the Attic
It was the habit of my grandmother and my mother to tell stories: real stories that actually happened. I heard many times about adventures they had when they were little girls. Of course, I was never allowed to indulge in such hijinks myself but it was fun listening to their experiences. The stories were told time and again, and they just never grew dull or uninteresting.
Nana's stories were....well, the plain fact of the matter was that my grandmother was a really naughty kid, and she got into so many scrapes that her parents, despairing of her, finally sent her to a convent school where her much-older half-sister was Mother Superior. Oddly enough, it wasn't a Catholic convent but an Episcopal one. Yes, there were actually Episcopal nuns. But I digress.....the story I was really thinking of is one that my grandmother kept secret for many years because she was frightened of what she had done.
She still felt conscience-stricken even as an old woman but she never told anyone this story until she talked about it with my mother and with me.
Nana's uncle worked on the railroads--apparently he had something to do with switching and with maintenance. He was mightily amused with his niece's antics but there's no explanation for what he did, except maybe that he was a drinking man and perhaps wasn't of his right mind: he gave Nana a lard can full of blasting caps.
Blasting caps. Now, I don't mean anything silly like cap gun stuff. I'm talking about actual detonators. Dangerous things. And when I say "lard can" think of a tub the size of a large coffee can.
No nine-year-old child, no matter what the time and place, should have charge of a five pound bucket full of explosives. Anyone with a grain of common sense should have known that without even having to consider for a moment. But that's what her uncle gave her and, strangely, he never asked her later what she had done with them. The matter simply seemed to have left his mind. That's why, when we all discussed it so many years later, we assumed that his bizarre gift must have been given under the influence of Demon Alcohol.
So, what was an Edwardian Era kid likely to do with blasting caps? Well, put them on the trolley tracks of course. And that's just what she did. She waited at the corner and watched. The caps blew the trolley right off the tracks. Nana then did what any other kid would do: she ran. She was terrified. It appeared that no one was really injured but there was certainly damage done and if her parents found out, she would have to face serious consequences.
She had to get rid of those blasting caps. So she put them in the most obscure place she could think of: a space between the walls just under the rafters in the attic of her home. She didn't tell anyone they were there.
About 65 years later, Nana got a letter from her eldest sister Jessie; there was a newspaper clipping enclosed in it. Jessie was amazed to report that their former family home had been in the headlines of the local news. The house had been under complete renovation during one of the hottest summers in years when, inexplicably, it blew up. Fire investigators were perplexed. No one had been in the house at the time and there were no gas or electric services hooked up. There seemed to be no reason whatsoever for the explosion.
Nana, Mother, and I knew the answer immediately:
It was easy enough to explain when you knew what was hidden between the walls under the rafters: Explosives grow unstable over time and with changes of temperature. Decades of cold winters and, finally, a very hot summer. Lots of vibration in the walls of the house due to the renovations. It was a disaster just waiting to happen.
This time, Nana didn't feel so much guilt as amusement. After all, she had blown up a house! She was still that same naughty kid at heart.
Nana never told her sister what she knew about the cause of the blast; it seemed wiser just to let Jessie wonder. As far as I know, no one other than the three of us (and possibly my stepfather) knew the true story of The Secret in the Attic.
But now I've just told you!
Life is good.
The past is, thank goodness, the past.