Sunday, October 3, 2010

A True Story

In the spring of 1995 my grandma died. A few days after the funeral my dad and mom, three of my dad's four sisters and their spouses gathered at their mother's senior citizen apartment to sort through her lifetime accumulation.

My grandma lived into her eighties and had a number of hobbies and interests. There were many items to reminisce over.

In among the bathroom towels, they found an unidentifiable object. It was perfectly round and smooth, looked like it was made of metal and had a large safety pin sticking in it. The consensus was that it was some sort of hot potato game kept around to entertain grandchildren (and great-grandchildren.)

One of the sisters tossed the game to my dad. "Here. You're the smart one. You figure it out."

My dad looked at it, turned it over in his hands, and pulled the safety pin out.

Orange smoke started fizzing out of the ball. Dad knew he was in trouble and ran toward the front door. He made it three steps before the ball exploded, covering the living room and everyone in it with a film of yellow and orange.

The concussion was powerful. Dad's palm and thumb were bruised so badly that blood oozed out the back of his hand. His stomach was peppered with fragments. His smart aleck sister Gwonda, who had tossed it to him, was bleeding from the face and neck. Everyone in the room was gagging and blinded.

Fortunately, two of the brothers-in-law were outside loading stuff when the bomb went off. My dad, mom and Dad's sister Jean piled into one car with Jean's husband Ted driving and Vadie, Gwonda and Gwonda's husband Lee made it to Vadie and Bob's car.

Heading to the hospital, my Uncle Ted was affected just by being in the car with them. He had to drive with his head hanging out the window, straining to see the center line. The other siblings took turns opening their eyes at intersections to yell out "red" or "green, go, go!" On the way to the hospital they drove past my cousin at work, who had never seen his dad drive so fast.

Arriving at the hospital they poured into the emergency room. Not for long. Soon the emergency room personnel were wheezing and coughing and had to shoo everyone outside, my dad and aunt on guerneys. Stripped and rinsed off by nurses and doctors in outside portable showers, the brothers and sisters could finally see again. My dad and aunt took a few weeks to recover from their wounds, but there were no serious injuries.

Everyone ended up in hospital scrubs, their own clothes ruined. Hospital staff wanted to burn the clothes, but couldn't because of the wallets, cash and other personal items. Back at Ted and Jean's house a few hours later, they set the bags of clothes on the lawn. The lingering fumes seeping through the plastic were still so strong it quickly killed the surrounding grass.

Lee, Gwonda, Vadie, Jo, Ted(dy Mac), Jean
So what the heck happened at their mother's apartment?

The bomb squad from nearby Fort Sill ended up calling in experts from Oklahoma City to determine that my dad had pulled the pin on a Korean War era tear gas grenade. Found in my grandma's apartment in small town Oklahoma. Nestled in the bathroom towels.

It turns out several of the grandchildren, now grown, remembered playing with the grenade. But Grandpa had told them not to pull the pin out. He had bought it at an Army surplus store, intending to set it off underneath the house to kill the bugs and spiders. For some reason he changed his mind. Wow. 

There are several lessons here.

Boys will be boys. This seems to be a recurring theme among my posts. My grandpa was probably in his fifties when he bought the grenade. I'm sure he enjoyed telling his friends about it. And I expect he intended to use it eventually, because explosions are fun.

Husbands should give their wives all the facts. Something tells me Grandma did not know she had a live grenade in her home. Keep in mind that Grandpa died twenty years earlier, so the grenade had been around for decades. He had told her it was important and to be careful. She carefully moved it from home to home and room to room. So men, even when you know it conflicts with the first corollary above, admit when you have something around that is dangerous.

Do not think of your parents naked and in an outdoor shower.

And, finally (this is for you, Dad)...........

Find the instruction manual before you pull the pin. 


jennifer said...


Dana said...

Great story--look forward to reading the next one.

Grandma said...

Okay, I said I would check on the things that I remembered hearing differently and I finally talked with Mother about it. 1st, she (Gwonda) definately did not toss it to Ted and say anything. Personally I think that sounds more like Jean than my Mom.

2nd, Mom says that she remembered later that Ivan brought the grenade back when he came back from the war as a souvenir for Grandpa. She vaguely remembers Grandma telling her not to mess with it because it was dangerous.

Mom has a picture of her and Ivan when they were teens but hasn't heard from him in years.