The Fourth of July is approaching and synonymous with the holiday are the sounds and smells of popping firecrackers, which I absolutely loved as a kid. Same with all other pyrotechnical playthings – I marveled at a good fireworks show. The thunderous booms, the dazzling displays and the “oohs and aahs” contributed to a wonderful celebratory occasion.
I never purchased the fireworks directly because someone in the neighborhood always had the inside line on procuring the incendiary entertainment. Alan from up the street had the connections and at the age of nine, was an enterprising kid who always had the deals.
“Okay T…one pack of crackers’ll cost ya two dollars but I got a special deal for you: three for six.”
“Sounds good…I’ll…heyyyyyyyy, wait a minute: that’s no deal!”
“Oh, I meant three for five.”
My interest started to wane until he introduced us to a whole new category of fireworks: Ash Cans, M-80s and Cherry Bombs. These were the toys of the big boys. With the power to shred discarded appliances, explode in water, and cause fright and respect by those who possessed them, these were the varsity players on a kid’s fireworks team.
I didn’t worry or think about the ramifications of an errant cherry bomb or M-80 exploding. I blew them up in the nearby pond, after hours on the local golf course, anywhere and everywhere where I could outrun the police or angry golf club superintendents without the fear of getting caught.
I slipped up one night when I detonated an M-80 in my backyard. Dad came running out of the house to investigate.
“The hell was that?” he asked, nervously scanning the yard.
“Umm, a firecracker.”
“Well, a few of ’em.”
Dad scanned the ground and bent down to where the M-80 had gone off. He stood up, towering above me and looked long and hard at me. “That wasn’t a firecracker. Not even a pack of them. Was more like one of those M-80’s, wasn’t it?”
My silence provided the answer he needed.
“If you have anymore of those…get rid of them. Without setting them off.” He turned and walked back into the house, leaving me there to contemplate my now limited future with those fireworks.
After a week’s respite from any M-80 mischief, I thought Dad had forgotten about the episode. Until he called me over to his recliner one night in the back den.
“Interesting article here,” he said as he licked his fingertips and tore out a few pages from a magazine. He handed them to me before picking up the TV clicker and turned off the sound, all the while watching me for a reaction.
Before me were gruesome photos of a kid whose hand was ripped apart by a cherry bomb. Not only were the photos frightening, but the fact that he mistook a similar looking but destructive cherry bomb for the non-explosive smoke bomb…lit it, and held onto it long enough until smoke was seen before launching it. In theory, it worked. In reality? A far different outcome.
The story was now featured before me in a bloody pictorial I held in my trembling hands. Dad simply stared, not saying anything. Didn’t have to. I can’t recall the name of the periodical…which was just as well, as I never wanted to see an issue of that magazine in my house again.
Of course I couldn’t wait to bring the magazine out to my neighborhood pals, because anybody with photos of carnage or even better…photos of scantily clad women torn out of the pages from an older brother’s Playboy or Penthouse magazine made you the most popular kid on the block for the time being. Popularity counted back then, even if it was fleeting.
After the initial excitement, we eventually sat down in our backyard, now a quieter bunch of kids. After all the, “Ewwwww, GROSS!” comments had subsided, a silence came over the group. The magazine lay before us on the grass, with firecrackers, smoke bombs and cherry bombs off to the side.
In all honesty, the smoke and cherry bombs laying side by side indeed looked quite similar. Under the darkness of night and ready to take flight after launching one of them, it would be extremely difficult to tell the difference. The gang must have been thinking the same thing because I noticed all of the guys suddenly staring at the packages with suspicion and a new found apprehension.
We never messed around with the smoke or cherry bombs again. My pyrotechnic playtime was now up in smoke. Actually, I never enjoyed shooting off any kind of fireworks after that.
Come this Fourth of July, I’ll be happy to accompany my wife to the fireworks celebration held at a nearby high school field. A celebratory show put on by professionals. Yes, I had my fun as an amateur. But more importantly and thanks to my dad…I still have my fingers.