We moved to Fayetteville when I was fifteen. I started that fall at Fayetteville High School. I desperately wanted to take Drama, but there were no spaces left. The closest the school advisor could get was Public Speaking. It would have to do. On the first day of class I became devoted to the teacher.
He was a mountain of a man. He must have been at least six and a half feet tall. He had a barrel chest and wonderfully rich voice. He had been a bit of everything in his life before he, “Came back to the school that showed me the door and suggested I never come back.” One of the many things he had done was work as a prison officer.
About halfway through the school year, the teacher wanted us to do a “show and tell” speech. He handed us our subjects. Mine was on how to make a Martini. I held my hand up and asked if I could do the speech on a subject I chose. He answered in the affirmative. Luckily he did not ask me what I was going to do.
When I was a lot younger I used to read a book series called The Brains Benton Mysteries. Brains, as was suggested by his nickname, was a genius. He was like a young Sherlock Holmes. I adored the books and it was through one of them that I found the recipe for making gun powder. It was not exact, that would have been irresponsible.But it did list the main ingredients.
Charcoal, saltpetre, and sulfer. Saltpetre and sulfer I could get at the local drug store. In those days you could get your hands on loads of “cool” things. I remember getting Hydrochloric Acid and Formaldehyde over the counter. That did change very shortly when a new chemist started working there. Of course I had the other ingredient at home in the guise of charcoal briquettes.
After a lot of experimenting I made a small pile of gunpowder that could more accurately be called flash powder. I did tightly pack a bit and it did make a satisfactory bang when lit. I was inordinately pleased that I had cracked the formula. I wrote the measurement down in a notebook and never had the opportunity to make the stuff again. Well, until my Public Speech class came along.
I went home on Friday and spent the next two days making gunpowder. I managed to fill an entire coffee can with the stuff. I then wrote my speech outline and made a few index cards with the formula on them. Speech class was my first class of the morning, so on Monday I entered the room with my coffee can, index cards and my outline. The outline I gave to the teacher and I sat down with my coffee can and index cards on the desk in front of me.
When the teacher read my outline he raised his eyebrows and looked at me questioningly. I just grinned and nodded. This seemed to satisfy him and he then did a roll check and said that I would give the first speech of the morning.
I got up to the podium and using the chalk board I wrote down my recipe for making gun powder. I then explained where you could get the ingredients from. Then with a flourish I opened the coffee can asked everyone to pass it around and have a look. When the can came back to me, I opened the floor for questions.
Immediately from the back of room came the question I was hoping someone would ask. “How do we know it works, man” This was from the “druggies” in the corner. “Ah,” I said, “Now comes the demonstration part of my speech.” I took a box of matches out of my trouser pocket, opened the box and pulled a match out and lit it. With what I thought was a theatrical gesture worthy of P.T. Barnum himself, I tossed the match into the coffee can.
FOOM! In a split second a flame roughly about five feet tall shot out of the top of the can. This was followed by a huge black cloud of smoke. The teacher shouted at the class to open the windows. This action did not immediately help to disseminate the smoke which appeared to get worse. The general atmosphere in the room was one of great hilarity. There was a lot of laughter and shouting and coughing. The teacher then evacuated the class room and we all went outside to wait for the smoke to clear. Luckily no one hit the fire alarm. Although this was mainly because the smoke was confined to the speech room.
Once the smoke had cleared and we were herded back to our seats, the teacher asked me if I knew that was going to happen. I had to honestly say no. I explained that I had never made that much before and had no idea that it was going to be so spectacular. He believed me and did not send me to the Principle’s office for being a disruptive influence on the class.
He instead gave me an A+ for my ingenuity and flair. Looking back on my time spent in High School, I think it was the highest grade I ever got for anything.
- What Teachers Do in Their Spare Time? (clarksvilleonline.com)
- ‘You are not special,’ English teacher tells graduating Massachusetts students (usnews.msnbc.msn.com)