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  • jrblackburnsmith

Did I ever tell you about...

Image: a fictional rendering of Jefferson in grade school

*Find out how you can win a free kindle edition of Love: a novel of grief and desire at the end of this post.

I grew up the second of four boys. There is a six-year span between the oldest and the youngest, so growing up in the country we spent an incredible amount of time together, especially when we were young. Growing up in the sixties, we spent quite a bit of time playing with caps. Caps were a long, thin paper string with small pockets of gunpowder. The narrow paper had small holes in one side so it could be fed into a cap gun. Every time you pulled the trigger of your cap gun, the gun's hammer would slam against the pocket of gunpowder and create a tiny explosion. This allowed you to pretend to shoot each other with realistic sound effects!

The thing about caps was they were even more fun without the cap gun. If you had a magnifying glass, you could concentrate a beam of sunlight on a cap until it burst into flames! You could stuff your matchbox cars full of caps and set them on fire to create realistic looking car wrecks! You could use them with your plastic toy soldiers (this was during the height of the Vietnam War) to maim and destroy your soldiers as if they were on a real battlefield! Literally, you could do anything your eight-year-old mind could conceive.

Growing up in the country, we had a fascination with guns and plenty of neighbors who encouraged our adoration. One young man regularly brought us his spent shell casings (both from bullets and shotgun shells) and we loved to play with them. Imagine how happy we were when we discovered that you could play with our shell casings and our caps at the same time!

It turns out that if you take an empty .22 shell casing and stuff it full of caps, and then you put it on a concrete block -open end down- and you hit it with a hammer it will make a very realistic gun sound. It was a much better sound than the stupid guns would make, and it never got tangled or misfired. The ingenuity of young boys! Picture the four of us (4, 6, 8 and 10) crouched around a concrete block, filling these empty casings with caps and pounding them with a hammer. The concrete block would get a little burn mark on it every time we 'fired' one of our shots. This was tremendous fun, until Mom came outside and asked what we were doing.

"Nothing," turned out not to be an acceptable answer, so we eventually confessed. Mom wasn't very happy. "I don't think that's safe," was her response. "Someone could get hurt." That was nonsense of course, because we had been playing for half an hour and we were all fine. "You boys should stop," Mom said and went back inside to finish the cleaning. "Okay," we agreed, disheartened. This was real fun.

We must have had one shell casing left that we had already filled with caps, because we agreed that we had to 'fire' one last shell. Rudy, (boy # 3) was never the most cautious of us (that was usually me) but he decided to listen to Mom and so he moved about thirty feet away from our concrete block to watch from a safe distance away.

Andy, Joel and I gathered around the block and Andy slammed the hammer down. Boom! "Owww!" Rudy screamed from across the yard, clutching his bleeding face. That empty shell casing had shot across the yard like a bullet, striking Rudy in the jaw. You could say that Rudy had a magnetic personality as a boy, drawing all kinds of injuries to his body, but that's a different blog post. He still has a piece of the shell in his chin now, 55 years later.

The moral of the story is that Moms must think very carefully before disrupting the blind luck of their children. I guess our Guardian Angel thought Mom was on the beat and he could go get lunch.

This blog is called The Art of Storytelling. Today's interactive lesson: consider the use of exclamation points. Did the author's use of exclamation points convey the correct amount of youthful excitement, or did it turn you off? Did the overuse of exclamation points create too much of a Hallmark feeling? How would you have used the exclamation point? Please wrestle with this the next time you have to write something.

*Info on the book giveaway: I work with Reader's Favorite on the Kindle book giveaway. If you go to you can sign up for the monthly giveaway. You can scroll through the list of giveaways (over 500 each month) or sort the list by title or author to find Love: a novel of grief and desire and put your name in for that drawing. Good luck!

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