That summer, the one from way back in 1984, was the year we discovered the barrels. Jack and me that was. If I remember correctly it was August. It was hot and humid. Grandad would say, "It's not the heat it's the humidity". The Tigers were on their way to a World Series victory, we were out of school, and the world was our playground. I was going to work with my father in those days. My grandad owned a rubbish company and my father ran it for him. Grandad lived on the same property where the business was run so I would hang out with him most days. Grandad had started the business when he returned from the great world war in 1946. He had served in the navy and oh how he hated the Japs. "Dinks", he would say. We would bug him constantly for war stories. He never would tell. The closest he ever came was that summer of '84 ,one hot and humid night after about twelve Molson's Golden and a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20. The mosquitos were so thick you could cut them with knife. The humidty of the day still lurked even though the sun was setting. The fading sunlight cast a deep red glow over grandads face. The rocking chair he sat in gave a soft squeak every now and again. Jack and I were sitting on the porch with him swatting mosquitos and Jack just up and said out of the blue," you ever kill any japs in the war?" The squeaking stopped and grandad just stared out at the setting sun. The reflection in his eyes made them seem on fire. He said very softly, just above a whisper as if this was meant for our ears only, " the thing that kills Japs best is Jap juice." He was silent for a second and the look on his face and his glowing eyes kept us silent as well. I had that uncomfortable feeling like we had gone too far but couldn't turn back. Like that dream where your running to get away but no matter how hard you run you can't get anywhere. Only this was real and I squirmed a bit. This seemed to jar grandad from his daze. He said, with a bit of a slur,"Jap juice does the job real well, too well in fact. We got three barrels left". He was off somewhere else right then. No porch, no mosquitos. His eyes burned with fire and sweat popped on his brow. He leaned forward in his chair, speaking to whom I'll never know, and said very shakily almost blubbering," Sir please don't use them barrels. There is something wrong with them barrels and it aint right." "Look what it did to Miller sir, we got to quit using it". I believe with no uncertainty at that point that I saw tears streaming down grandads cheeks. I was scared. Jack was scared and I was just about to tell grandad we were headed home when he spoke. His voice sounded tired and it creaked like the loose board in our staircase at home. "Stay away from the barrels", he said. He leaned back, closed his eyes and a few seconds later we heard the unmistakable sound of snoring. Grandad had left the day behind. I looked over at Jack and he was staring at Grandad and he was grinning.
It was the very next day when we found the barrels. Jack and I had stayed the night at Grandads and after a big breakfast we headed out to play. We were building a fort in the big oak behind the barn. The oak was old and the limbs were big. Just right for a tree fort. We had completed our ladder up to the first of the giant limbs and we needed a big flat board for the base so we went on a hunt to find one. We ended up in the bottom of the barn. It was a little dim in there but we could see well enough. Moving slowly, eyes scanning for anything fortworthy we made our way into the barn. We had made it all the way to the back of the barn and into one of the corners. There it was, an old piece of plywood just the right size for a tree fort. Judging by the amount of dust and dirt on it no one was going to miss it. "Grab it on that end and pull", I told Jack. He grabbed and started to pull it off of whatever it had been stacked on. "I need help", he said. I walked over to his side and together we gave it a heave. It was stubborn at first but it eventually started to slide. "It feels like it's catching on something", I told Jack. "Just pull harder you big wuss", was his reply. With a giant pull we freed the plywood from whatever it was hung up on and in doing so we heard a big thud from behind the board. We looked at each other with a sheepish grin and at the same time said,"oops". Then we scrambled behind the board to see what fell over.
Behind the soon to be floor of a tree fort stood two barrels. Laying on it's side on the dirt floor was a third. Some old tarps lay on the floor in a heap. The apparent cause of our stuck plywood. We both just looked at each other. An erie silence settled over the dim corner of the barn. Breaking the silence I said to Jack," let's go, grab on", motioning to the plywood. We carried the wood outside and leaned it up against the base of the tree. I felt better being out in the sun again. There was a cold sensation in that barn. I couldn't exactly place it but it felt like the cold air pocket you sometimes feel on a warm summer night. It felt disturbed in there. Like we had stopped time and everything had ceased to function for a minute. Out in the sun the feeling began to fade and we were soon hammering away on our tree fort.
We made great progresss on the tree fort that day and with much begging and whining we secured a weekend stay with my grandparents. We went to bed that night in the spare room where grandma keeps her sewing machine. We slept on the floor because the spare bed wasn't big enough for two of us. I was tired and sleep came quickly. The last thing I saw before drifting off to sleep was Jack grinning at Grandad.