Chapter 5: Independence Day

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With June behind me, I went up to Uncle Rob’s with my folks for an Independence Day celebration. When I’d first heard we were going to Uncle Rob’s place for the Fourth, I had been expecting a small gathering with just immediate family. I’d been waiting patiently for a month now to get the scoop on Dad’s project with Uncle Rob. When I heard about my sister Kira and her beau driving in from Nashville, I was unconcerned – there’d be no problem getting a quiet moment with Dad and Uncle Rob and getting the details from them. Then, Dad suggested I invite Amit and his family. Mom said she’d extended an invitation to the Tollivers. I wasn’t looking forward to having to hang out with Abby, but fortunately they didn’t deign to attend. And then, I learned Rob had invited all his veteran buddies and the festivities were going to start with shooting. This was clearly not destined to be a quiet and intimate family gathering.

Mom and I picked up Amit and his mother – Mr. Patel had to stay at the hotel, and Dad had gone up early to help Rob set up. We made the dozen-mile drive out of town and up into the hills to Uncle Rob’s gate. Usually locked, barred, and punctuated with a couple of “No Trespassing” signs, today it was wide open and even decorated with some red, white, and blue bunting. We drove in about fifty yards to where an arch of welded rebar spanned the gravel road. The sign spelled out “Robber Dell” in twisted rebar with a thin patina of rust. Heh. Below, someone had added a “Welcome!” sign. More red, white, and blue decorations were threaded though the arch. Just past the arch, the road entered a narrow defile with a steep incline and even steeper sides. The road cut sharply into a scarp just barely wide enough for Mom’s car to get through. Mom drove slowly and carefully up the slope. The road opened to a broad clearing, full of corn.

The property had belonged to Great Aunt Molly, my grandmother’s sister on my father’s side. Back a few years ago, Dad and Uncle Rob inherited the property on the death of their mother. The property had not been lived on in years – merely leased to nearby farmers for hay or corn. A stone chimney, and a foundation of rubble were all that were left of an old farm house. The gravel road ended by the ruined farmhouse, and a dirt road still damp from an early morning rain shower led back through the corn field. At the far side of the corn field, backed up almost to the mountain, was a double-wide trailer and a small metal barn. I don’t know how Dad and Uncle Rob got the trailer in through that steep cut up the hillside, but Uncle Rob had been living there since he got out of the service, supplementing his military retirement by working the farm.

Mom parked next to a low, flat hill. We climbed up the gentle slope where we met Dad. On top of the mound was a fresh concrete pad surrounded by low concrete walls with rebar fingers sticking in the air like a giant Venus flytrap waiting… Realization dawned. I looked curiously at Dad. He smiled and placed a finger in front of his lips to gesture for silence. I was pretty sure I knew where Dad had prototyped the design for Dr. Kreuger’s refuge.

I also saw a low, sloped-wire antenna between the mound and the trailer. It looked a lot like the one Dad had in our backyard. I’d figured Uncle Rob and Dad were communicating using amateur radio, but the similar antenna confirmed it for me. I also saw a few propane tanks on pads distributed around the pad. One I could understand – lots of folks with trailers would have a propane tank for heating or cooking. But, Uncle Rob had three, and what looked like pads for a couple more. I was rapidly adding to my list of questions to ask Dad and Uncle Rob, but for now I was going to have to be patient.

Uncle Rob put us to work organizing and setting up his shindig. Amit and I were given responsibility for the shooting range. We set up targets on hay bales on the field Rob had designated as the range, and we piled a row of double-stacked bales to form a firing line. We stacked up a half-dozen bales at each shooting location to form an impromptu platform for prone or kneeling shooting positions. All that work left us tired and thirsty, so we headed back to the trailer in the Mule.

By then it was clear Dad and Uncle Rob had invited quite a crowd. There were a number of clean-cut men I pegged as some of Uncle Rob’s veteran buddies. I recognized some of Dad’s contractor friends and colleagues. All the men seemed to have brought their wives and children or girlfriends. I saw a couple of Mom’s friends and their husbands and families, including some kids I knew or recognized from school. I spotted Emma – Amit would be happy. There was even a familiar looking German sedan – I spied Dr. Kreuger accompanied by a woman I assumed to be Frau Kreuger. Following them were an attractive blond girl and a couple of younger boys. I assumed they were the Kreugers’ children.

I caught up with Uncle Rob and asked him where and how he’d met so many folks around Sherman. “Folks I worked with, mostly,” he explained. “Some from the rifle range. Pity all the deputies are on duty for the holiday or we’d have had most of the sheriff’s department over.”

“You shoot with the deputies?” I asked. “So how do you score compared to them?”

He chuckled. “My scores are better than any deputy, but that’s what you might call a ‘loaded question.’ On the range, a smart law officer makes his qualification score and not much better. Shoot a perfect or near-perfect score and heaven help you if you ever accidentally shoot a bystander in the line of duty. No one will believe it was truly an accident. My scores are better than any of them – officially. Unofficially, there’s a few who’re probably on par and maybe a bit better on a good day. Sheriff Gunn runs a tight ship. He makes sure all his deputies know what they’re doing.”

Before I could get into any further questions, he excused himself, and made an announcement to the throng. “Anyone who’d like to learn how to shoot, come on to the range,” Uncle Rob shouted out. “We’ll be training and practicing for an hour, then we’ll see who’s the best shot here today.”

I ran to the truck to get my gun case, but Dad already had it and met me halfway. “Make sure you spend your time teaching others who haven’t had your opportunities to learn,” he advised me. I was a bit disappointed, but I saw the wisdom of Dad’s direction. I could come and shoot whenever I wanted, after all. I taught Amit and the Kreuger boys, Carl and Frank, how to shoot with my .22 rifle. I asked Amit where Emma was, and he told me she wasn’t interested. My .22 was a simple single-shot bolt-action rifle. It didn’t take long before all three of my students were getting quite good. I saw Dad was teaching Mr. Kreuger how to shoot his .45 pistol. Mom was using her slim .22 pistol to instruct Mrs. Patel and Mrs. Krueger. Another of Mom’s pupils was the Kreuger’s daughter, who was awfully cute, and was taking to shooting with a bouncy enthusiasm.

Finally, we cleared the range, secured the weapons, and I replaced the targets. The competition began, first rifle, then pistol. The top three scores from each round advanced to the final. I made it to the final with my .22 rifle, beating out one of Uncle Rob’s buddies. He was shooting a fancy, tricked-up AR-15, and was incredulous that I shot better using the iron sights on my simple .22. At that relatively short range, however, my .22 was every bit as accurate as the more expensive weapon. Uncle Rob, Dad, and I were all beat in the final round by another of Uncle Rob’s friends. In the pistol competition, my Mom cleaned up. She shot a perfect score in her preliminary round, and then did it all over again in the final. The holes from her shots formed a tight group right in the bullseye ring.

“You still got it,” Dad said to Mom. “Shall, I?” He offered to take her gun. “No, go ahead, dear,” she said. “I’ll clean her up and store her myself.” Dad carried our rifle case back toward the truck as Mom quickly and skillfully cleaned her pistol.

“That’s some mighty fine shooting, ma’am,” one of Rob’s friends was saying. He’d been the runner up and shot a near perfect score with his .45, but Mom’s grouping had been tighter. “But, that little gun isn’t very practical for self-defense, though,” he continued. “Those .22 rounds have no real stopping power. You might consider looking into something with more power that shoots a .45 round. A .22 is a lousy gun to take to a real gunfight.”

“I’ve tried other calibers, sir,” Mom replied politely, “but the recoil makes those big guns hard for me to handle. I prefer to be accurate with a .22 rather than spray large caliber rounds in the general direction of my target.”

“I think you’ll find that grouping would be plenty tight to put a magazine of rounds into someone’s nose,” Rob observed in Mom’s defense. “That’s gonna be pretty effective. The best gun for a gunfight is the one you’re most proficient and effective with. The worst is not to have one at all.”

That seemed to settle the debate. I walked with Mom back to Dad’s truck to put away our guns. “Where did you learn to shoot like that?” I asked her.

“It was your Uncle Rob who got me and your father started,” she explained. “From then on it was just a matter of practice. I’ve been too busy to shoot regularly of late, so I’m glad we had this opportunity.”

“But why did you and Dad spend the time to get so proficient?”

“It was a bit… wild,” she explained, “in the early days when your father and I first came back to Sherman. It made sense to be prepared for any… eventualities. And the less said about those days the better.” That was all I could get out of her.

After everyone had locked up their weapons and secured them in their vehicles, Dad stepped up on a stump, and held up his hands to silence the crowd. “I want to thank you all for joining us on this fine Independence Day.”

“Can’t keep me away from your barbeque!” came a cry from the crowd.

“Well, y’all should know there’s no such thing as a free lunch!” he exclaimed back, “So quiet down, and listen up! Legend has it that ‘Robber Dell’ is where the Unionists hid their horses when the Confederate raiders swept through these hills. The place had fallen into some disrepair. I can’t imagine a more appropriate proprietor for this spread than my brother.” Dad got some chuckles.

“John Adams said that Independence Day should be ‘solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.’ We got the games, sports, and guns well underway. Now’s the time for the show where we ‘solemnize with pomp.’ Being a most unpompous sort myself,” that drew more good-natured chuckles, “I’m going to turn the stump over to our host to remind us all what we’re celebrating here today. Rob?”

Dad stepped down, and Uncle Rob stepped up on the stump. “I want to thank my big brother not just for that introduction, but also for introducing me to Sherman. I haven’t been here long, and I’m grateful so many of you have honored me with your friendship. I appreciate y’all spending your valuable time to gather here today.

“Some of us take liberties like these for granted: the right to assemble, the right to speak our minds, the right to have a say in how we’re governed. It hasn’t always been that way. A couple hundred years ago some folks just like you and me got fed up with being pushed around and oppressed by tyranny. They joined together, and they resolved to send a message to tyrants then, now, and in the future: a message that would never be forgotten, a message that goes like this.” Rob pulled out a sheet of paper.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

It was uncanny how Uncle Rob’s voice quieted the rowdy crowd.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

I’d read Jefferson’s words before and since, but never did they have more meaning to me than that day, spoken aloud by my uncle. It was easy to imagine a patriot of old standing on a stump in a clearing informing friends and neighbors who’d gathered to hear the latest news from Philadelphia.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The crowd became more lively, punctuating the recitation with boos and hisses as Uncle Rob recited the list of tyrannies, and with cheers as he described our rights and independence. Finally, he concluded:

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor!”

The crowd burst out with sustained cheers and applause. When they quieted down, Uncle Rob continued. “As we’re celebrating here this fine day, kindly remember to lift bottle or glass in honor of our founding fathers, our comrades, our friends and family, and all the others who have pledged their Lives, their Fortunes, and their Sacred Honor in the cause of liberty.” He took a swig from his bottle as did many in the crowd. “I am informed,” Uncle Rob continued, “that the barbeque is ready to be served. If you’d like to get an early start, head on up to my new pad. Otherwise, please carry on with the fun and games.”

I thought I was finally going to get my chance to corner Uncle Rob, but he was busy talking with a group of men. I recognized Mr. Garrety and some of the other truckers from Kudzu Joe’s among them. Before I got a chance to hear what they were discussing, Uncle Rob interrupted the man who was speaking, and drafted me to supervise the ATV rides. Dad and Uncle Rob had carved a mile-long loop trail roughly around the perimeter of the property. Now that the shooting was over, the trail was open for business. Some of Dad’s and Uncle Rob’s friends had brought some ATVs and dirt bikes. The kids did laps while I served as a pace car, driving the Kawasaki Mule at the head of the pack and making sure none of the kids got too wild. I did several laps over the course of an hour. When the Mule ran low on gas, I stopped to fill it up. I waved over Amit and Emma, letting them take over with traffic control. The Mule had two seats and they liked the idea of being out of sight. By then, I was getting hungry, so I climbed the mound to Uncle Rob’s pad to get a helping of barbeque.

I saw Dad and Uncle Rob talking privately. Finally! I grabbed some pulled pork, heaped it on a bun, and went on over to join them. Before I could make it over to them, however, Mr. Burleson stopped me.

“You folks sure know how to throw a party,” he said. “Find any other clues about those bouncing waves?”

I told him about the Fleming bibliography and the missing reference to the 1905 paper by Heaviside: ‘On the Interactions of Waves.’

“Your father passed that one on to me last week,” he acknowledged. “Unfortunately, I haven’t made much progress. Heaviside talks plenty about reflections of waves from conductors, but not from each other. If he wrote a paper on electric waves bouncing off each other, he certainly didn’t include it in Electromagnetic Theory.”

“A completed search is progress of a sort, sir,” I offered, “even if you don’t find what you were looking for. At least now we have fewer places to look.”

“That’s looking on the bright side!” he acknowledged with a grin. “Sorry I haven’t called you earlier, but your father has this notion we should only discuss it in person.”

“He’s just being careful,” I noted. “Dad thinks if there’s anything to this at all, it must be a modern cover-up from the folks at Omnitia. I think it’s more likely to have been something going on a hundred years ago.”

“Hard to say,” Mr. Burleson said with a shrug, “but it was interesting to look into. If you do find out anything further, let me know. I’ll see what I can do.”

“Thank you, sir,” I replied. “I appreciate all your help.”

Dad and Uncle Rob were still talking off by themselves, sipping from small shot glasses of amber liquid as I approached. Bourbon, I presumed. Maybe Uncle Rob had aged some of his moonshine? I figured they’d respond best to directness. I squared myself in front of them, I looked Uncle Rob in the eye, and I asked “So, what is this grand scheme you’re working on with my father?”

Uncle Rob turned to address Dad, “He sure don’t beat around the bush much, does he?”

“He’s got a determined streak to him,” Dad acknowledged. “Grabs onto something and won’t let it go. Must get that from his mother.”

“Well, he might have gotten that from our side,” Uncle Rob speculated. “But at least he has better sense in his choice of obsessions than Grandpappy. You know…”

“With respect, sir,” I cut him off, “I would appreciate it if you’d do me the courtesy of an answer.”

Uncle Rob burst out with a laugh. “Real polite, too. Should I tell him?”

“Go ahead,” Dad smiled. “I expect you’ll have no peace until you satisfy him. And it was your notion got us into this scheme, after all.”

“Aren’t you the one always saying that the inspiration is only 1%? Well, OK then.” He turned to me. “You read up much on your history?”

“Some,” I said cautiously, figuring Uncle Rob would have some obscure point on which he’d trip me up.

“Do you recall the Whiskey Rebellion?”

I’d read about that in Paul Johnson’s A History of the American People. “Sure. Frontier folk in Pennsylvania couldn’t get their corn to market because the expense of carting it in bulk across the mountains was too high. So, they distilled it to whiskey which made it more portable. But then, the federal government started taxing whiskey and they rebelled. Washington sent the Army in to restore control.”

“Yeah, that’s the gist of it,” Uncle Rob agreed. “That’s what gave me the idea. Up and down the Appalachians there’s natural gas wells. Not so many in these hills, but more up into Kentucky and West Virginia. Part of the Gore Tax included a heap of new regulations on how to transport natural gas. The regulators carefully crafted the rules in collusion with Tolliver Corporation and some of the other large energy companies who were big campaign contributors. They engineered the regulations to make it very difficult for small independents to get their natural gas transported to market at any reasonable expense. So most of their wells are idle and their owners are losing their shirts. It’s the same problem as faced those frontiersmen with all the bulky corn they couldn’t transport. How did they solve it?”

“By distilling it down to a more compact form,” I answered. “You mean chilling and liquefying the natural gas?”

“Sharp kid,” Uncle Rob said to Dad. “But, not quite there yet,” he said to me. “Liquefied natural gas, chilled and compressed to make it more compact is a standard technique. But, the energy companies and their lobbyists thought of that. They forbid shipping liquefied natural gas by tanker truck except for very short distances. And somehow, while it is perfectly safe and acceptable to truck gas from a rail depot or a distributor to a customer, when the gas is being moved the other direction from a gas field to a rail depot or to a distributor or directly to an end user, it suddenly becomes too dangerous to transport on a truck. The upshot of it is, if you don’t have a rail spur to your gas field, you pretty much can’t ship your gas in compact liquefied form which means it just isn’t economical to ship.”

“So how do you ship it?” I asked.

“You don’t,” Uncle Rob grinned. “That’s the beauty of it. If you can’t bring your natural gas to your customer, you bring your customer to your natural gas.” I was confused. Uncle Rob continued. “Your Mom and Dad engineered a mobile system in a cargo container for compressing, liquefying, and distilling air. It burns natural gas to drive the compressor and chiller. We truck our rig on up to a natural gas field, and we tap into what would otherwise be an idle well for a few hours. We burn the natural gas and collect the liquefied compressed air into tanker trucks: about four tanker trucks of liquid nitrogen for every tanker truck of liquid oxygen. We have a small tank that collects the residue of argon and heavier gasses. Our production method isn’t as efficient as big fixed plants, but our energy costs are way lower. The small independents are happy to get a market for natural gas they otherwise couldn’t sell, and we’re able to get a steep discount. The rules for trucking compressed liquefied oxygen and nitrogen are still much less stringent than for liquefied natural gas.

“We’re building a nice customer list that’s happy to get cut rate liquefied gases. Welders use oxygen and argon, for instance. Lots of folks use nitrogen for cooling. There’s a restaurant in Knoxville that uses it to make the creamiest ice cream you ever tasted. We’ve even got a couple distributors we’re working with, now that our volumes are getting high enough. They’re willing to buy our compressed gas in bulk and sell it to end users.”

“So, effectively, you’re ‘bootlegging’ liquid air,” I said.

“You could say that,” Uncle Rob acknowledged with a smile. “But nothing we’re doing is the least bit illegal.”

“For now,” Dad said ominously. “The point of the regulation was to shut down these small natural gas producers in the name of safety and the environment so they couldn’t compete with the politically connected elites. If those elites found out we were providing a legal mechanism for small producers to sell their gas, they’d likely concoct some kind of excuse to shut us down. That’s why it’s important this not get out.”

“Is there any particular safety hazard?” I asked.

“Of course,” Uncle Rob offered, “if you splash the stuff on yourself you get freeze burns. That’s why doctors will use liquid nitrogen to burn off warts. If you let liquid nitrogen evaporate in a confined space, you could asphyxiate if it replaces too much of the oxygen. Liquid oxygen isn’t particularly flammable in and of itself, but pure oxygen gives a much more intense fire than normal air. That’s why welders like it. I’ve been using it in the welding jobs I’ve been doing for your dad.”

Ah-ha. Now I knew where Dad had found a reliable and trustworthy welder for Mr. Kreuger’s refuge project. And, I’d already figured out we were standing right on top of the testbed where he and Dad had prototyped the underground refuge concept using buried cargo containers. I kept my epiphany to myself.

Uncle Rob continued, “So there are certainly dangers and things we have to be careful about, but the technology for storing and shipping the stuff is well established.”

“What happens if you get shut down?” I inquired. “Won’t you take a big loss?”

“The business model is the tricky part,” Dad observed. “We have to minimize our capital investment in case we get regulated out of business on short notice. We have to rent all our trucks and gear and only buy used hardware that will retain a decent resale value. Fortunately, there are lots of out-of-work truckers and idle rigs around. We’ve pretty much recouped the initial investment and the margins are solid. We’re at a point now where we’d at least break even if we were shut down.”

“You always were the inquisitive kid,” Uncle Rob noted. “Any more questions?”

“It comes of being in a family with an awful lot of secrets, sir,” I replied. “So, Mr. Garrety is working for you? Oh, and that reminds me, he bought me a coffee the other day, by way of thanks. He also asked me to convey his thanks to you in person.”

Uncle Rob looked concerned “He didn’t say anything about the work, did he?”

“No, sir,” I confirmed. “Which was remarkable, because he seemed to think I knew all about it. Only, I was even more confused after we talked than before.”

“Good,” Uncle Rob said with a smile. “He’s not actually an employee. Mr. Garrety and some other truckers work for me part-time as contractors. They haul the stuff to the distributors and customers, but your Dad and I do most of the actual production,” Uncle Rob explained. “It’s time for some fireworks, so you’ll have to settle for one last question.”

I pondered what I should ask. I might not get another opportunity like this for a while. “I see you have an antenna just like Dad’s, but how do you communicate using amateur radio? Don’t you need a line of sight or a repeater to make it work?”

Dad noted, “He just got his Technician Class license.”

“Oh, congratulations, kid,” Uncle Rob smiled. “Now if you study for your General Class License, you’ll learn that lower frequencies, like below 30 megahertz, tend to bounce off a high layer in the atmosphere called the ionosphere. We’re using ‘Near-Vertical Incidence Skywave’ or ‘NVIS,’” he explained. “The signals go straight up to the ionosphere and back down over an area as much as a couple hundred miles wide.”

This was puzzling to me. “I learned about the ionosphere when I was studying for my exam, but I thought it was only for long distance communication.”

“Same phenomenon, different application,” Rob explained. “Instead of bouncing signals at an angle so they hop around the world, we bounce them straight up and back down. Your dad can probably explain it better than me. Gotta run.” With that, he departed to prepare the fireworks, and Dad followed him, leaving me with yet another admonition to keep family business private.

The fireworks were spectacular – not as big and elaborate as you might get in a professional big-city show – but the proximity and intimacy of the pyrotechnics had a greater emotional impact. I watched the show with my sister Kira and her boyfriend. He seemed like a jerk, and I wondered what Kira saw in him. He wasn’t at all interested in hanging out with Kira’s kid brother. After the fireworks ended, Dad and Uncle Rob lit a big bonfire. I left Kira in peace.

Uncle Rob had a variety of logs arrayed in a broad circle around the fire. I walked a slow circle around the dancing flames. Uncle Rob had gone over to chat with a couple of his friends. Mom and Dad were sitting together, Mom with her head on Dad’s shoulder. I didn’t want to interrupt their privacy by joining them.

Amit and Emma were off to the side sitting together on a log. As I approached them, I heard Amit explaining to Emma why Women’s Suffrage was such a bad idea. What? Yes, I’d heard him correctly. “Women are too emotional on average to make the hard rational decisions needed to responsibly exercise the vote,” he was saying. Emma was clearly not happy with him. Was he deliberately provoking her to make her mad, which would then be evidence in support of his thesis? That would be just like him – always the debater. Or, was this just part of another convoluted tactic on his part? Probably. I made a mental note to ask him about it later, and left him to his “game.”

Then I saw the Kruegers and their attractive daughter. She was sitting with her family. I probably would have left well enough alone but Amit’s influence had rubbed off on me. I approached the family, “Guten Abend Herr Doktor Krueger und Frau Krueger. Wie geht es Ihnnen?” I think that was more or less correct for “how are you,” but I wasn’t sure if it was right for formal plural usage.

“Sehr gut meine junge Freund und guten abend zu Ihnnen!” Doktor Krueger said cheerfully. I think I caught the gist, but anything other than the most basic greetings were beyond me. Fortunately, he switched to English. “But we here are the Hessians in this history drama of your father and uncle, ja? You would still speak with us?”

“I understand we got many of our best and hardest working patriots from the Hessians who decided to change sides, bring their families over from Germany, and make a go of it as Americans,” I said to Doktor Krueger. “I hope you and your family will decide to stay also.”

He cracked a broad smile at that, “I think we will. Please have a seat.” The girl had been sitting next to her father and quickly slid down the log to make room for me. I remained studiously focused on her father as I sat down and he continued speaking. “Please thank your father and uncle for the invitation. This has been great experience. Like Oktoberfest but with guns and fireworks!”

“Did you have any experience with guns before, sir?” I asked.

“In the Bundeswehr. I was drafted. Not since. Carl and Frank, they like your teaching,” he said.

“They’ve both got good eyes and steady hands.” I noted them both smiling. “They’re excellent shots.”

“You have met my daughter, Eva?” he asked. He pronounced it “AY-va.”

“No I haven’t had the pleasure.” Finally! I turned to face her, took her hand, and held it as I introduced myself. “You seemed to enjoy learning how to shoot this afternoon.”

“Very interesting. We have nothing like that in Germany,” she said with only a mild accent. “America is very different.”

“This is your first time?” I asked. She looked confused. “You hadn’t shot a gun before?” I added.

“Oh. No,” she said. “I just came here with my mother and brothers last month.”

“Eva will start eighth grade in fall at school,” Doktor Kreuger offered. I’d thought she was older. I was feeling a bit awkward. “Carl and Frank are in fourth and sixth grade.”

“I hope you all enjoy the rest of your summer vacation.” I tried not to sound too lame. “I understand I’ll be seeing you again soon, helping my father with your project,” I said to Dr. Kreuger.

“Yes, it goes well the work,” he replied. “Tell your father and uncle thanks again for us all. We had a wonderful time.”

“I’ll do that,” I said, standing. “A pleasure meeting you all,” I added to the family and excused myself. That was a bit uncomfortable, but I survived. I hoped Amit was right that approaching girls got easier with practice.

I stood by myself a way out from the circle of light and watched the happy people. Eventually, the party faded out as folks departed and headed on home. Amit got a ride with Emma’s family. Mom, Dad, and I followed the path of light sticks away from the bonfire, our shadows dancing in the dim light ahead of us. It had been a busy day of celebration, a day to recall our history punctuated with guns, barbeque, bourbon, bonfires, and fireworks. I would not see its like again for many years.

On Friday, May 6, look for Chapter 5 Notes: On Independence Day, The Free and Independent State of Scott, NVIS, and .22 Caliber Pistols, and on Wednesday, May 11, look for Chapter 6: The Vacation.


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