By John Frazier
It was a typical Fourth of July celebration as most are in small towns across America. The little town of Gassaway nestled in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia had revived a celebration from the early twentieth century in the town history. The town put up a sign that welcomed the traveler to this little hamlet with the quote “Gassaway: Next to your hometown the best hometown in the U.S. A.” The town council and other organizations along with Harry Kyer who took the helm as the main organizer and MC had worked fervently to make our country and towns celebration a success.
This celebration of the week created a carnival atmosphere with many activities to entice the public and families back to their hometown and to give the locals a chance to celebrate their town. Each day had specific activities. The highway dissecting the length of the town was State Route 4 and Main Street was blocked and detoured down River Street or Braxton Street that went past our home. Each day there were hay bales blocking streets, with lawn chairs strewn everywhere. There were all types of food and drink vendors throughout the town’s main street while all types of music blared from speakers. The live entertainment included patriotic, country, gospel, and blue grass music as people packed the streets eating their vendor treats. Games and square dancing were occurring in the streets and business could choose to be open or be closed. There were podiums in front of J.C. Baker Texaco Company, also at the City Park near the Community Building and those across from the Gassaway Railroad Depot on the Kenton Meadows property. There were little old ladies in front of the various store fronts peddling their “goodies” for their organizations. One store owner, Clara Thorn, who ran the drug store at the lower end of Elk Street even had a shipment of ice cream on a stick called a “Super Star” that was three colors of red, white and blue for all the little children that frequented her store. A car show lined one end of town with a display of all makes models of all color and sizes. There were old pickup trucks, muscle cars, Road Runners, Goats, (GTOs), Corvettes, and Mustangs etc.
This celebration was brought about due to research that had been done in my senior year of 1976, as that was the Bi-Centennial of our country’s celebration of July 4, 1776-1976. This particular celebration occurred in the 1980’s and one could see the remnants of the 200th Independence celebration still intact. There were faded red, white and blue painted town water company fire hydrants. Red, white and blue basketballs were still being used at the Gassaway City Park and the Catholic Hill Basketball Courts. The customary red, white and blue paper streamers, and Old Glory was displayed everywhere. People were decked out in all types of clothing displaying their red, white and blue.
As the week progressed fun with family, friends and old aquatints was occurring everywhere. The week culminated with a parade and a huge firework display. As the day came it was blistering hot with music rocking the town overcrowding in the streets occurred. There was a huge parade with all types of partakers. Of course, the parade included the fire departments, Emergency Squads, and vintage cars that were compliments of people like the Pletcher Family. Horse drawn wagons and buggies, with old and little children displayed their red, white and blue as the hooves clopped down the street. Horseback riders displayed their cowboy attire with their patriotic Old Glory waving in the wind. The high school band under the direction of Steve Jarrett brought forth the Eagle Pride as they marched down the people-packed Main Street.
Later that evening it was time for the “Great Fireworks Display”. The choice was made to watch from mother’s yard on Braxton Street with the neighbors in attendance. As the sun set and evening came to the small town everyone could hear the crowd in the streets below still celebrating the festivities. As darkness finally came upon the small town, the explosions began from the Kenton Meadow field across from the Gassaway Depot. The rockets’ red glare was bursting in midair! There were red, white, blue, green, pink, and yellow sparks exploding everywhere and the smell of black powder filled the air. It was a grand display! A big firework here, a small one there and a fizzler there lit the night sky! One could hear the “Oohs and Aahs everywhere” and again it made me proud to be an American! As the display fizzled down a lively conversation with the neighbors’ continued until almost midnight when everyone decided to call it a day.
As we returned to the house it was now bedtime. We had just started to catch some ZZ’s when the phone rang. My comment was “Who could that be?” My wife Kim, being a MedTech reminded me that she was on call and it was probably the hospital. My comment back was of course “How could one forget!” Calls from the hospital in the middle of the night would occur for most the rest of our marriage. However, on this particular night there was an interesting development.
A patient had been brought into the Emergency Room with an interesting injury. The story will be told so as to protect the identity of the person or people involved. And, as memories tend to get a little rusty, it might just be slightly embellished.
It goes like this. Louie and Bubba (assumed names) were Elk River fishermen and it being “Dog Days” had not been very successful recently in fishing the river as it was low and the fish had not been biting. Louie and Bubba earlier in the week had partaken of the festivities of the Gassaway Days Celebration. Upon hearing of the plans for fireworks display for the Grand Finale they devised a plan to increase their odds at angling on the Elk River. Sometime during that last day of the celebration, they had either partaken of the “Fruit of the Vine” or had some other type of elixir such as “Corn squeezins” that definitely clouded their judgement.
As late evening approached, Louie and Bubba decided to skip the fireworks display and launch their craft in Elk River in quest of Mr. Essex that prowled the depths of the famous stream. They had obtained one of those nice pale lime green aluminum John Boats in which to seize their catch. Only problem was that they knew the fishing was poor and the likelihood of catching anything was almost nil. So, what did they do? They decided to “Up their ante!” Now friends let’s just say that “Fishin and Drinkin” do not mix!
Bubba got in the boat at the back or stern while Louie got in the bow and launched off and they were now afloat on the mighty Elk (although as low as it was it could not really be called “mighty” on this night). It grew dark and the fireworks began as the explosions erupted in the night sky and the men were fully aware that no fish had been caught. The plan to use the firework explosions to muffle their dastardly deed unfolded.
Louie at the bow of the craft and “drunk as a skunk” decided it was “high time” to catch some fish. He reached into his tackle box and pulled out his ultimate lure. As both men smoked, he did not have a problem with one of the accessories. And there in the tackle box was a half a stick of dynamite with a fuse. Louie began rocking the boat and exclaimed that “He would get those &%#@ feesh!” He put the dynamite in his hand and fired up the fuse.
Louie at this point aimed to cast the grand fusilier into the middle of the stream to dynamite the beauties of the deep, but because he earlier had his hands in the river helping to push the boat from the shore, his hands were slimy from the famous squishy Elk River algae. Therefore, as he made his throw the half- stick giant “Firecracker” slipped off his fingers and instead of going cross stream it launched upstream of the craft and began floating back toward the boat.
Bubba, also drunk, but aware of the dire situation, began churning that river water with his paddle like a turbine and tried to navigate the craft out of the path of the lighted projectile. The explosive made it to the front of the craft as Louie flopped and wallowed in a frantic effort to extract himself away from the front of the boat and the path of the explosive. Both men realized that to jump would be suicide! Their only hope was that the explosive would pass quickly under the boat and blow downstream. Lady Luck did not smile on them as the dynamite exploded directly under the stern of the boat. The craft went airborne in the in darkness and in addition to destroying their vessel, killed the fish in the path and carcasses of the fish were seen laying along the stream edge the next morning. Louie and Bubba both swam to safety and once reaching the shore, stumbled to land.
Louie took the worst of the explosion and Bubba, being at the back of the boat, came out unscathed. Bubba drove his partner to the hospital, and Louie was immediately admitted to the emergency unit. Not knowing how much blood Louie had lost in the “accident” the doctor ordered lab work and my wife entered the room just as the nurse and doctor were extracting the aluminum shards and other shrapnel out of Louie’s “moon”, which was bloodied and bruised from the results of the explosion. The nurse finally voiced a question that most in the room were anxious to know as she quietly asked Louie how he got aluminum in his rear end. Being reluctant to admit how he was injured, both out of embarrassment and afraid he would find himself on the wrong end of the law, Louie was finally coaxed to tell his story but only after he was convinced, they would not turn him in to the DNR law enforcement. Thus, this story I have written was told in a small emergency room in the middle of the night on the Fourth of July.
My wife returned home in the wee hours of the morning and the next day reluctantly told me the tale of the two fishermen and partners in crime. She said that she had seen a “A Red, White, and Blue Moon!” on the Fourth of July! We laughed until we cried!
Have a Happy Fourth of July everyone! Please remember everyone that has sacrificed to keep this great country free!
John and Kim
Author’s Note: It is a true story and did happen and the names were changed to protect the people involved but I did embellish some humorous parts to keep the reader’s attention.
Editor’s Note: John Fraizer is a native of Braxton County. He was a professional educator, now retired. He is most noted as a history teacher at Braxton County High School. This story was originally posted on John’s Social media page prior to the 4th of July. It is reprinted, with permission, here for our readers enjoyment.