The Way We Were – 1942-45 & 1967-70

Part Twenty-Nine - By Warren Thomas

Can or should a 15-year-old high school boy be psychoanalyzed in retrospect for weird behavior? A lot of water has gone under the bridge, details lost, and reasons not remembered. So a reader will have to consider whether the passage of 70 years might exonerate a mischief-maker of a past decade.
The setting was Forestburg High School in 1944 or 1945. The exact location was the boys’ restroom located on the ground floor between the first, second and third grade room to the east and the fourth, fifth and sixth grade room to the west. The girls’ restroom was located directly above on the second floor.
Perhaps 5-8 years prior to the deed of interest, I had discovered in my deceased grandfather’s shop a small, ancient glass jar containing black, greasy material. How I identified the unusual stuff, I don’t recall, but I learned that it was gunpowder from an older era. It appeared to be Granddad Bonney’s last stash of powder, likely from the days of his muzzle-loading rifle, circa 1885. Experimenting when my father was elsewhere, I discovered that a match would ignite a pinch of the powder into a tremendous cloud of pungent white smoke. What’s more, the explosion occurred with only a soft “poof”, quite unexpected considering the volume of smoke.
How much later it was, I don’t recall, but the bright idea came to me to take the powder to school. And again, I don’t recall when the moment of mischief changed from showing a friend what I’d found to actually having some fun with it.
Again, the setting — study hall on the second floor. With the bottle out of sight in my pocket, I walked to the front blackboard and right beside the pencil sharpener I initialed “WT” to signal that I was leaving for the restroom downstairs. It was important that with my “WT” in plain view, no other high school boy could use that restroom at the same time and upset my scheme.
On the east wall of the restroom stood two tall, flat-topped urinals, ideal for my bright idea. Secrecy was necessary for the project, so I stepped outside the series of two doors to look for intruders. The front entrance and hallway were deserted and quiet. Hurrying back inside, I extracted both bottle and matches from my pocket, removed the lid, shook out a couple teaspoonfuls on the top of one of the urinals and scratched a match. When the flame touched the powder, I was gratified to hear the expected “poof.” As the dense smoke mushroomed to the ceiling and spread toward both the stall on the far end and the door on the north end, I quickly exited the scene, secure in the thought that the two sets of doors would slow the acrid smell sufficiently for me to calmly climb the stairs and just as calmly enter the study hall to erase my initials from the blackboard.
I could imagine that the next male visitor to the restroom, be he high schooler, grade schooler or janitor, would yell “fire!” at the top of his lungs. There would be no way in which the smoke could escape from the small room and it would all be there for the next user to witness. But peace and quiet prevailed. I heard no excited discussion; I didn’t even learn who next opened the doors. It escapes me whether I was elated that my conspiracy succeeded or disappointed that I’d not caused a ruckus. Of course, my juvenile brain hadn’t planned for the horrifying judgment-day event if the superintendent had suddenly walked in! As it turned out, “all’s well that ends well.”
Now, you amateur psychoanalysts, what made a teenage twerp pull such a stunt? You men who were once boys yourselves may have a quicker answer than the generally genteel ladies. However, some 25 years later when Woonsocket sophomore and junior boys attempted to push my Volkswagen over the bridge to the island, I remembered! I got away with my prank; they almost did. Kindred spirits, I suppose.

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