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Jeff Whitten: It happened right here
editor's notes

Somewhere in a Richmond Hill backyard there is the ghost of a tiny piece of upper lip that used to belong to me when I was young.

I blew it off celebrating Independence Day about 35-36-something years ago.

I say “ghost” because by now the ants have eaten said piece of lip, and other ants have eaten the ants that ate the ants that ate the lip – it’s called the circle of life, you know.

Yet while what happened then left but a small scar on my upper lip, right there under the nostrils, it left a bigger one on my psyche, or I wouldn’t be writing about it as a warning to those who’ve yet to find their calling in life and might be prone to doing dumb stuff with firecrackers.

It haunts me to this day, it does.

Actually, I’m just kind of impressed I can still remember what happened, even though it’s not every day you get your upper lip blown off by a bottle rocket. Not even on Independence Day. (That’s been my experience anyhow. I know it might happen to some people twice a week, but not me. Once was plenty.) Anyhow, it being the July 4 weekend I figured I’d do my duty and rehash the scary details yet again in the hope it keeps other young idiots from doing something stupid with firecrackers.

Here goes the back story: I was stationed at Fort Bragg in the 5th Battalion, 8th Field Artillery and my buddy Sgt. Wes Tate and I were down for the weekend. My girlfriend at the time lived in Richmond Hill and her family and my family were close – her dad and mine were both career soldiers – and we went to her parents’ house to have a July 4 cookout.

And here goes the front story: At some point after a whole lot of cold beer, Wes and I being young troops figured it would be fun to throw bottle rockets at each other.

Lit bottle rockets, naturally.

It went well for a while, I think. Army training, you know. And then it didn’t.

I can still see it in my mind’s eye, in slow motion. There I was, lighting a bottle rocket with a trusty Bic lighter, counting to three and then sort of flicking it at Wes. And then there I was, watching it do an end-over-end and fizz its way back at me.

And then bang. It hit me in the lip and exploded. I saw stars. Or sparks. Or both. I sat down harder than I planned on sitting down.

I blinked.

Everyone sort of blinked back at me. Then we all had a cigarette, because everyone smoked back then, even the dogs and cats. And then the lip started bleeding profusely, as they say in incident reports whenever someone gets injured in the lip.

I got tended to and babied and we managed not to call EMS, who probably would’ve laughed or tried to find and then reattach the missing lip pieces with 4 pound fishing line. After the swelling went down, I was left with a giant sort of bloody scab that made me look like I had something awful coming out of my nose.

Have you ever tried putting a band-aid on your upper lip? And then having another beer? It isn’t easy to do, but it was better than looking like I had something awful coming out of my nose.

But I was fine. The next day we all loaded up and went to St. Simon’s Island and hung out on the beach.

This of course was back when there weren’t 40 million transplants on the Georgia coast and you could go to the beach and enjoy it, but even back then if you went to the beach with your upper lip covered with a band-aid you’d feel a bit weird and on top of that get the band-aid all sandy and beer-stained and eventually remove it, which I did.

That drew the “ewwww” looks which said in so many words, “Oh, grodie, that guy’s got an enormous (rhymes with sugar) on his lip, run!” which tended to make me want to lie and say “I was in a war and got shot in the lip by a commie,” except back then there weren’t any real wars just occasional invasions of places like Grenada and Panama. We spent most of our time training to exterminate Russians or their proxies, but that’s another story.

In conclusion of this one, it’s simpler just to not throw lit bottle rockets in the first place unless you have one of those COVID-19 plastic face-shields. Which I didn’t.

This has been a public service announcement.

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