I miss the cannon. Every summer holiday, our Dad would bring out the cannon and shoot it off ceremoniously with great build up until the moment the fuse was lit.
I never did hear how the cannon came to be, but it was a solidly built contraption that actually fit in a shoebox. Perhaps he picked it up in some far off land while serving in the Army during World War II.
I can't imagine it traveling unscathed through the Battle of the Bulge, though. Our Dad carried scars and shrapnel with him long after the guns were silenced from that battle.
He did manage to secure a German Luger but that's another story. As for the cannon, I will have to pick my siblings' brains for its origin. Maybe no one really knows where it came from, but it was as much a tradition on the Fourth of July and Labor Day as were tangerines in our Christmas stockings.
The cannon was heavy, mostly barrel than anything. Dad would carefully bring it out of its hiding place (my brothers often snuck a peek at it in its resting place in the back of our parents' clothes closet.) He would caution us more than once to stand back as he poured gun powder into the barrel, tamping it into place.
As he lit the fuse, the littlest ones would clamp their hands over their ears and the rest of us would marvel at the powerful sound that little cannon could make. Of course there was a plume of blue-white smoke as the cannon spent its ammo. The dogs would howl and run for cover under the picnic table.
The shooting of the cannon was most always preceded by our Dad's magic show of sorts. He taught us all how to "take off your finger" by putting your thumbs together and "sliding off" half of it.
But his best trick was the disappearing cigarette. He would stand in front of the crowd of kids in the backyard while adults would mosey over, too, clamoring for a look at the trick. He would puff and puff on that plain, non-filtered Raleigh cigarette until it was very small. Then he took a white handkerchief out of this pocket. He cupped his hand into a circular fist, stuffing the handkerchief down into the hole. He then, accompanied by gasps from his audience, stuck the cigarette down into the handkerchief hole. Then he would release the handkerchief and the cigarette would be gone!
I was well into adulthood before I was let in on the secret of his magic trick. I was sworn to secrecy so you are on your own to figure it out.
Year after year we never tired of the cannon or the cigarette trick. Since his passing 23 years ago, picnics have not been the same, and no one has attempted to duplicate his show. The magic is gone, left to our hearts and imaginations to keep dear.
May you find some magic in this end-of-summer holiday weekend and share it with those you love. We miss you, Pop.
Heather Ziegler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.