The potential for losing a finger or your hearing aside, if you’re a kid, is there any better place in the world to be on the Fourth of July than a state where fireworks are legal?
During my trip to Missouri for a class reunion last weekend, I resisted temptation at the fireworks stands that dot the state line – not because I’m uptight about breaking interstate commerce laws, but because it was about 500 degrees and driving around for a week with a bunch of explosives near the fuel tank of my vehicle didn’t seem like a good idea.
Maybe it would have been OK. They have to get from point A to point B somehow, probably by truck, and, presumably, this ground transportation doesn’t always occur in cold-weather months. But still. I wouldn’t truck dynamite around. It seems a little like driving a bomb around.
So that’s my story and I’m sticking to it, no matter how many times I get the sad, pouty face from people questioning how I could drive to Missouri this close to the Fourth of July and not bring back explosives.
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As kids, we all got to spend $5 on fireworks. It was a father-and-kids ritual. My mother flatly refused to have anything to do with fireworks. If she could have, my mother would have left home on the Fourth of July and returned only when the last of the noisy ones had been fired off. She said it was like being in London during the war and she wanted nothing to do with it.
I suppose the only reason she didn’t leave was because she would have had to take the dog, a border collie named Beauty, with her. Beauty didn’t like the fireworks, either. And when she was frightened, she was as liable as not to bite.
My mother agreed to put up with the noise of nighttime fireworks because there was something aesthetically to be gained – something to ooh and aah over – and not just a loud noise that can shatter an ear drum.
Roman candles could always be counted on – for one thing or another.
Roman candles got a bunch of BJ (that’s townie lingo for Burlington Junction, MO) kids, including my brother, busted one night.
There was some sort of fun-loving Roman candle “war” going on across Main Street. It was after 11 o’clock at night and a guy who’d done three tours of duty in Vietnam dusted off an old curfew ordinance, found some sympathizers among tired townsfolk who wanted the noise to stop, and they marched them all down to City Hall and made a citizens’ arrest.
It took them a couple of hours to figure out what to do with them and when they did, all the parents had to come up with bail money in the middle of the night. It was the first time ever in my life that I heard the words “kangaroo” and “court” used together and, ever too literal, I tried to imagine what kind of hijinks had taken place for the cliche to be coined in the first place.
Were judges and lawyers hopping around the courtroom – or, in the case of BJ, the old gasoline station and garage that served as the city hall? Or was Captain Kangaroo himself presiding?
The whole thing caused a big stir around BJ. My mom didn’t like the way the kids were treated, but I think she filed it away for her war against fireworks.
I’m not sure if she knew the older boys used their money for M-80s and cherry bombs. It was supposed to be a secret, but it’s hard to keep a secret in a family of nine, especially when the secret makes as much noise as an M-80 or a cherry bomb.
Now, pyrotechnic types may argue about whether an M-80 really is equal to a quarter-stick of dynamite, or if that’s an unfair comparison because TNT and gunpowder are different properties, but all you really need to know is that they can dismember and disfigure you.
These were not “girl” fireworks. It never occurred to me that this was sexist and that girls are just as capable of blowing off their fingers as boys. I just accepted it and let myself be steered toward the sissy fireworks, the lady fingers.
Or so I thought, until one went off in my hand and numbed my fingers for what seemed like the rest of that summer, when I decided, around age 10, that I was old enough to decide for myself what was safe and what wasn’t.
I’m that ooh-and-aah fireworks watcher now. It’s already sounding like Little Beirut in my neighborhood. I could make a citizen’s arrest.
But then again, 40 or so years later, and we’re still making snide jokes about the fun-hating self-appointed marshal.
I’ll buy earplugs instead.