The Wounded Refrigerator

It was New Year’s Eve. I was eleven years old and happy to have my dad back from the Navy at the end of World War II. A tradition in our family and observed by others in our working class neighborhood was to go outside and fire our shotguns in the air at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.

There must have been a city ordinance against discharging a firearm within the city limits for our hometown, Newark, Ohio, had a population of more than thirty thousand. If there was I never knew it and, apparently, no one paid any attention to it, especially on New Year’s Eve.

My maternal grandmother, Grandma Sasser and we made our home together. Her presence often pulled in many members of the family, particularly during holidays. She was a great cook and pie baker and our house was like headquarters for the whole family who came to pass the time of day, hash over jobs and life in general and to visit with each other.

This particular New Year’s Eve brought several family members: my cousin Clyde, recently returned from combat duty in the Pacific Theater of the war as a soldier; my uncle Andy and Aunt Martha and girls; Uncle Carl and his family including his toddler daughter, Marsha and a few others, as I recall. The house was full.

As the new year neared, my Grandma Sasser worked around the kitchen to provide raw cabbage for everyone to nibble on at the midnight hour, “for good luck.” After a bit she left the kitchen where the men folk, my younger brother, Bill and I were gathering to prepare to shoot our shotguns. Little Marsha stood in front of her dad, looking up to him. Uncle Carl had a reputation for hard drinking. This night was no exception. I will always remember the flask of whiskey in his left back pocket to which he had been reaching several times as the evening wore on.

I could tell my dad was nervous about the twelve-gauge pump gun Uncle Carl held, curled in his arms. He looked unsteady on his feet. At about four or five minutes to midnight my dad said to we boys, in a message-sending voice to others as well, ” We better go outside and load up, it’s almost midnight.” He started for the door as we began to follow.

What happened next is forever etched on my memory. As I turned to follow my dad out into the back yard, we had just reached the kitchen door when we were all subjected to a tremendous flash of fire and an ear-splitting roar. The men who had just returned from a combat zone, my dad, my cousin and one or two others were especially stunned, as I recall.

In a few seconds we began to recover from the initial shock. My Uncle Carl, full of whiskey, had apparently had his finger on the trigger of his shotgun and was shoving shells into the magazine. As he did so, he accidentally chambered a shell, the firing pin fell and discharged the shell into the middle of our kitchen. Little Marsha only moments before was standing directly in front of her drunken father. My mother, always one to be a little cautious, had reached out and taken Marsha’s hand with the words, “Here, Marsha, we better go in the other room.”

They had taken a few steps when the gun discharged. It was very close, but it was enough. The full impact of the powerful shell hit the wall across the room from where Marsha had stood. The main force of the blast struck the kitchen wall just above the baseboard. The ricochet tore into the refrigerator at the bottom hinge on the door. As it did so the refrigerator door came loose and swung crazily down, hanging from one hinge. We boys danced around the kitchen table, holding our ears and yelling in dismay to one another over the deafening sound we had just endured.

As I recall, Uncle Carl sobered up quickly. My mother was furious at her brother’s senseless act. Now that I think of it, I don’t remember whether or not we went outside to fire our guns that New Year’s Eve. It seems we had experienced enough fireworks inside. I am quite sure little Marsha never knew how close she came to death that night. The shock to all of us was so great, none of us probably knew.

Looking back almost sixty years to that night again, I am reminded of the goodness of God to spare us all a terrible tragedy. Eventually the refrigerator was fixed, although it always displayed a terrible groove and blackness in the metal leading to the hinge where the shot did its damage. My uncle, who later claimed Christ in his life is now gone. So is my dear mother who went on to become a Christian and a pastor’s wife. My dad died and went to Heaven in 1980 after a life of service to Christ for many years. I entered the Navy about seven years after that never-to-be-forgotten event. It was there that I found Christ as my Saviour. God is so good. That New Year’s Eve could have brought death to Marsha and perhaps one or two others. Instead, we can look back and chuckle. The old refrigerator was the only permanent casualty.