I do not know my parents as people. The comedian Mike Birbiglia has a joke where the premise is if he met his parents at a party he would not like them. I can relate. I do not know what to do with them. I have been around them a lot, lived in the same house as them and worked with Mom for years at the library, but I have never been around them socially. Odd, maybe? I do not know.
Mom and I talk about book and television and local gossip when we are not talking about the library. Dad and I, well, we joke with each other, but other than that we have little in common. Conversation can be at a minimum when we meet for lunch. Today was no different.
Dad came with a pizza. I could tell he was uncomfortable walking in the library. He always has been.
Jessie came up from his computer hovel and took over the circulation desk. Mom followed Dad up the stairs. I went into the office and grabbed the box of donations from Mayor Bilbo.
Lunch passed in silence until we had our fill. Then Mom went down to relieve Jessie and allow him to come up and get some pizza if he wanted. I started laying out the items from the box.
Dad pulled out a pair of reading glasses and started picking things up. Several shirts, patches and other clothing items were the first. He nodded at each, turning them in his hands.
“Might want to believe Billy Bilbo on this stuff,” he said, “Looks legit, but you’d have to get an expert for dates. All I can say is ‘old.’”
While Dad had been a Marine and an offshore worker, his real passion had been military history. Years back, Mom almost persuaded him into going back to school to become an archivist or a history teacher, but he rejected the idea. Idle research and his goat tending was enough.
As I moved down, the items became more interesting. Three zippo lighters, all brass and covered with scrapings and marks. A small tin was filled with dirt and had the word “Normandy” written on the cover in a scrawled handwriting. A packet of playing cards well-worn and falling apart with age. Then, weapons.
The first was an old and rusted 1911 Colt .45 Automatic. Dad took it from me and tested the weight. He flipped a small switch and instead of the magazine ejecting, nothing happened. He walked to the counter of the break room’s kitchenette, pulled out a dish towel and set the gun down.
“Don’t touch that just yet,” he said.
“Loaded?” I asked.
“Okay,” I said, “well then you better get some more towels because the rest of this is scaring the crap out of me.”
The other three items in the box were large and heavy. The first was a black iron ball. I set it down on the towel attempting to make as little noise as possible. The second was a rusted and beaten looking cylinder with one end curving inward to make a cone shape. The last looked much like the second, but cracked and missing a section.
“That,” he said, pointing to the iron ball, “is a cannon shot. Hollow cast iron. See that hole on top?”
“That’s where they would put the gun powder. Fill with powder, stick in a fuse, shoot out of cannon.”
He made an explosion noise and fanned his hands apart. Then he pulled a small penlight from his pocket. Looking in the hole, then to the broken cylinder, he shook his head.
“Same for these. They look different, but they are all basically the same thing.”
“Bombs. The ball and the broken shell here, they had powder in them. Still do, a little. One of the Bilbo’s at one point probably cracked them open and got the stuff out. Dangerous, but not like that one,” he said, pointing at the intact cylinder, “That one could be full of powder. Old powder, probably unstable with nitro.”
“So, that thing could hurt us?”
“Sonny boy, if that thing drops off this table it could take out this whole damn room.”
It was my turn to whistle.
“The gun, it can be taken apart. Looks old, probably 20s or 30s, but by the weight it has live rounds in it. Primer’s are probably duds by now, but like the shells that powder in the bullet’s dangerous.”
“So blown up or shot. Okay. Fun day to be a librarian. What do you recommend?”
“I don’t know. I’m curious what these markings are.”
I looked at the what he meant on the shells. Runes. The same runes from the book Betty had lead me to.
“I know those markings, but... What the hell are they doing on hundred year old bombs?”
“What are they?”
“Runes,” I said, “Viking writing. Supposed to be powerful.”
“Well, most of the family’s around here can trace themselves back to the Norse or Germanic countries. We can. Not that surprising the Bilbo’s can, too. And soldiers have always marked their weapons and such with drawings or notches or whatever.”
“I guess. Strange, though. We can take pictures of everything, but I kinda want the explosives out of the library, Dad.”
Dad said, “I’ll call Sgt. Webber over at Camp Bannen. Military historian for the base. He’s a good guy and I bet he would find these a hoot. Then his men can blow them to hell.”
“Can I come?”
Dad smiled and nodded.
“Okay,” I said, “You call Sgt. Webber and I’ll call Billy to tell him we’re about to explode his donations.”
I was kinda giddy looking at the ordnance. It was funny. I was gonna go on a field trip with my dad and blow shit up. Not many people can say that. Seems dad and I have something in common after all.
Plus, haven’t you ever wanted to call a patron back and tell them “thanks, but we are going to have to rain destruction down on your stuff” after they donate a bunch of junk you did not ask for?
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