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Rolling Thunder This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

In a world before microwavable popcorn, there was stovetop Jiffy-Pop. As a little boy, both my parents worked, but I was lucky enough to have a rotating cast of relatives who took care of me during the week. I think my Uncle Alan (forever known to me as Ahah) made the biggest impression on me. Looking back, it was like being taken care of by John Candy in “Uncle Buck,” except that my uncle happened to be a history buff extraordinaire and a true politico. In between sessions of C-SPAN, the History Channel (before it became overrun with reality shows), and CNN, we'd make Jiffy-Pop.

Through these shows, he instilled in me a passion for history and politics: C-SPAN (“Little fella, you're watching the government live!”), the History Channel (“We'd be speaking German if old Adolf hadn't opened up a second front!”), and what he considered his crowning achievement, my enduring love of cable news.

On what had to have been my fourth Thanksgiving, at halftime in the Cowboy's game, the announcers read a news update. Many of my relatives displayed shock at the story. Although I can't remember the news bulletin, my response became legendary: arms akimbo, in a high-pitched, indignant little-boy voice, I chastised the group, “Don't you people watch CNN!?”

I had arrived.

But amidst all this immersion in the real world, Ahah and I often let loose in the most hilarious ways, and Jiffy-Pop was always in the mix. After a rollicking game of “Trouble” or “Kids Monopoly,” with a joint session of Congress in the background, we'd set about making this magical snack together.

Jiffy-Pop was high-tech – a disposable foil-covered pan filled with kernels. We swirled the pan over a lit burner for about ten minutes to pop them. Ahah always brought a chair to the stove so I could stand on it and shake the Jiffy-Pop over the burner. As the pan warmed, slowly, like magic the foil unfurled into a shiny balloon. All the while the kernels warmed and popped, bouncing inside the foil. The pinging would begin slowly from side to side, grow to a steady hum, then erupt into what Ahah, a Vietnam vet, called “rolling thunder.”

It was incredibly exciting, but it took timing – something we weren't always up for. We were easily distracted; a news bulletin or new docudrama could grab us instantly. On more than one occasion we left the Jiffy-Pop on a little too long. My mother says she could always tell if it'd been a busy news day as soon as she got into the driveway – the smell would be that strong.

I learned that left too long, Jiffy-Pop was quite literally explosive. During one incident (forever imprinted in my memory), hot steam built up and burst the foil, throwing popcorn everywhere. The pan then burst into flames, adding excitement to the day. Ahah extinguished it with some of his ever-present seltzer.

Most of all, I remember the charred, smoky taste of the popcorn. Sitting on the couch with Ahah, we settled in for more political immersion, the bowl ­between us, his pipe in his mouth, and as the two smoky smells melded, we picked up where we left off, tackling the pressing issues of our time ­together.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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