Library Rambler: How I lost my eyebrows
At seven-years-old, my interest in gunpowder and things that go “bang” matured, and I politely asked my dad permission to start using his twenty-two. In response, he hid the gun and bullets. Undeterred, I decided to make my own gunpowder. I began by sneaking into the big people’s section of the public library looking for a book that I imagined would be called “How to Make Your Own Gunpowder”.
Before I was sent back to the children’s section for the umpteenth time, I found the recipe for gun powder in a book about the history of guns and realized I was missing just one ingredient: saltpeter. It said that I could buy it at the drugstore, but I reasoned that our pharmacist saw hundreds of boys a year wanting to buy saltpeter for gun powder.
It also described how saltpeter was made in colonial times by using fresh cow pies. But I knew my dad would surely ask me why I was collecting so many cow pies and then building a tent over them. After all, he was the one who reprimanded me for using gasoline to clear baselines for a diamond on our lawn.
Then it hit me: my cap gun used gun powder in the caps. So, one summer Sunday afternoon, I commenced removing the tiny grains of black powder from my rolls of caps. I used a sharp knife to cut the cap open and then carefully scrapped the powder out with a needle.
I worked without a break for two hours and had accumulated a pile of black powder about a quarter-inch high. However, fatigue had set in and I got careless. One of the caps ignited as I was removing the powder. It set off the pile of gunpowder. It all went off in one big flash.
My nose felt hot and I rushed to the bathroom to see if I had any burns. The only odd thing was I was missing most of my eyebrows and eyelashes. The few hairs that remained were sharply curled up on their ends. Just then I heard my mother call us kids to supper.
I tried to be nonchalant as I entered the dining room and took my chair.
“What happened to your eyebrows?” my father asked.
“Oh, nothing,” I said, shoveling food in as fast as I could.
“Well, you did something,” he said mostly to himself. “Ma, look at his eyebrows. There’s something wrong with them.”
My mother did not look. I was a problem child and, if it was just eyebrows that went missing, she was not going to worry about it.
“And his eyelashes are gone, too.”
My mother looked, but then got up to get more mashed potatoes.
“He’s not telling us what happened,” he said talking to himself, “but something definitely happened.”
He studied me closely while I gulped down the rest of my food. He was still puzzling about it when the meal ended.
My next biggest hurdle was to grow my eyebrows back before school began in a couple weeks. I asked my friend John if he could get some of his dad’s hair restorer for me. John wanted to know why. I told him I had been making gun powder, it had exploded, and burned my eyebrows off.
“See,” I said.
“Sister Mary Elephant will ask me what happened and you know she always figures stuff out. I need to grow them back—fast.”
So, for the next couple of weeks, I smelled like an old man fresh from the barbershop. During those weeks when I walked into a room, my dad would sniff the air suspiciously and ask, “What’s that smell?” No one knew.
Rhinelander District Library director Ed Hughes is available at 715-365-1070.