As my college friend Bob told us stories about his Uncle Jim, the farmer in New Jersey with whom Bob stayed during the summers, he always made it clear that Uncle Jim was an excellent farmer. As with many other people who excel in a certain area, Jim occasionally allowed his natural enthusiasm to carry him into areas of endeavor for which he was ill-suited, often with disastrous results.
One such occasion was Jim's attempt to bring a little culture to his rural town. Jim enjoyed watching PBS and he saw a program on the Son et Lumiere shows popular then at chateaux in France, featuring classical music with laser and firework light displays. Now, Jim enjoyed the annual rendition of the Christmas portions of Handel's Messiah done by the combined choirs of the town every winter holiday season, so he started thinking about staging his own son et lumiere show around the Fourth of July. He didn't want to compete with the town's holiday picnic and fireworks, so he settled on July 3 and printed up some flyers. They said:
COME HEAR AND SEE!
UNCLE JIM'S HOLIDAY
RURAL FIREWORKS MUSIC
JULY 3, 1969
AT THE FARM
Jim was a generous soul who gave any money he collected to Heifer International. He believed in farming, and in helping farmers all over the world.
And so, he and Bob were off to buy what Jim termed a "boatload of fireworks." They returned with the pickup bed full, and set about readying the display.
Jim's plan was to imitate the royal fireworks displays in England in which the pyrotechnics were shot off from barges. Instead of a barge, he had a rowboat which he and Bob filled with fireworks, fusing them so they went off in sequence.
Bob ran some speaker wire from Jim's Lafayette stereo system and set up speakers near the stock pond. Dot was to play Handel's Royal Fireworks Music as the display started. Bob and Jim would row out to the fireworks in the middle of the pond, ignite the long fuse, and paddle out of harm's way and enjoy the show along with everyone else. It would be glorious.
Jim posted some signs around town, and come the evening of July 3, there was a steady stream of cars and trucks turning into the driveway. Bob directed everyone to park in a pasture, and they all made their way to the bleachers Jim had acquired when the high school put up steel ones at the baseball field. The old wooden ones had some splinters in them, but still had plenty of use as long as no one slid along the seats. Even if that happened, Dot helped in the medical tent every summer at the county fair and had her tweezers, alcohol and bandages. She was ready.
Dark settled on the farm, and Bob and Jim rowed out to set the spark that would begin the whole show. about one hundred people sat on the bleachers in breathless anticipation. Some of them said they could hardly wait to see what disaster would ensue, but they were a cynical minority.
Bob and Jim reached the fireworks boat, and Jim lit the fuse. Before they could even put an oar in the water to get away, sparks from the fuse fell onto the fireworks, igniting some, which ignited the rest. The whole boatload went up in one tremendous column of fire with a huge explosion which woke the sleeping cattle and pigs and caused them to kick down their fences and run away in panic.
Dot saw the first glare of the explosion and started the music. Bob and Jim, blessed with quick reflexes, dove into the water and stayed under for the time it took for all the fireworks to play out, which might have been thirty seconds. They surfaced, climbed in the boat and rowed for shore, certain that everyone would want their donation back. Actually, most people thought it was all planned. They said they had never seen such a spectacular display in all their lives and that they only wished it were longer. They went home happy.
Dot was waiting for Bob and Jim with towels and a couple of observations. "Tonight proves two things, she said. "There's no fool like an old fool, Jim, and there's a sucker born every minute."
Jim and Bob didn't say a word but went in to watch PBS. Masterpiece Theater was on, and they never missed it.