I was awakened this morning by the sound of children and wanna be children lighting money on fire. Today is the 4th of July and in our small town, despite the tragedy of flood waters, the tradition of firecrackers from morning to well past midnight is in full swing.
When I was a child, the sale, purchase and use of firecrackers was strictly verboten. The truth is that even if we’d had the option of buying them at every corner store, Pop would never have allowed it. The idea of spending good money on something that you take a lighter to didn’t make much sense to him.
One 4th when I was young, two of the neighborhood kids went running from door to door, yelling at the top of their lungs. They were going to have a big Independence Day fireworks show at their house and we were all invited to sit outside and watch it as soon as it got dark.
My brothers, sisters and I were tickled to death and all afternoon, wondered aloud to each other what kinds of things we’d see. We’d never seen a fireworks show before and although we expected “the law” would probably come arrest our neighbors for blatantly disobeying the ban, so long as they didn’t get hauled off until after they’d entertained us, we didn’t care.
I guess we figured so long as we fed their blue ticks and looked after their trailer while they were in the county lock up, it was all good.
That evening, Daddy carried lawn chairs to the yard for him and my step-mom and us five kids spread out old electric blankets with the cords cut off to sit on. We were a little early for the extravaganza, but when something so big is about to happen right across the street, you don’t want to risk missing a minute of it.
Once we were settled, Pop went back in the house to get his shotgun and my step-mom to get some mayonnaise crackers and sweet tea.
Yes, I said shotgun.
Although we never had any fireworks, I guess Daddy had enough boy left in him that he needed to at least make some kind of noise to mark the holiday. Twice a year, on the 4th of July and New Year’s Eve, he’d pull out his shotgun and at some point during the evening without warning, he would fire it straight into the air as if he were trying to shoot down a star. A single blast and he was done.
Yes, I said mayonnaise crackers and sweet tea.
I grew up poor so rather than bags of store bought potato chips, we made do with other things. As only a mother can, my step-mom managed to convince the five of us that there was nothing better than Duke’s Mayonnaise on saltines and of course sweet tea was as much a staple as water or milk. More so, really.
While I now know that tea had enough caffeine and sugar in it to keep an eight year old awake for three days straight, back then we didn’t give any thought to such things. A big glass of ice cold no-doze right before bed helped me spend countless nights as a child planning my escape from the Jolly Green Giant who lived under my bed and plotted to eat me.
As dusk turned into country dark, our excitement was almost too much to contain. With mouths full of crackers, we began shouting and clapping our hands to encourage the pyro-experts to hurry it up. Neighbors all around us joined in excitedly. Had any of us known what a “wave” was, we probably could have pulled one off.
On second thought, the wave is dangerously close to dancing and dancing leads to eternal damnation and hell fire, so I suppose I should retract that last statement.
With great drama, the front door of the only mobile home on our street slowly pushed open and the two kids filed out, Momma and Daddy right behind them. I thought how lucky they were that their parents bought them illegal fireworks to play with. We weren’t even allowed to say “butt” in our house.
We watched wide-eyed as the four huddled around the back of their pick up and I shushed my little brothers who were doing something entirely annoying, like breathing in and out. Before I even had time to smack one of them and make it look like one of my sister’s had done it, I saw sparks and my attention was drawn to the night sky.
I was puzzled to see nothing more than stupid old stars there.
“Woo-hoo! Look at this!”
These two offspring of what I had been previously convinced were the coolest parents in the universe were dancing and prancing all around their front yard with a single sparkler in each hand.
“Hey, Jerry! Do like this!” The girl instructed her brother in the ways of sparkler showmanship by making big circles in the air while hopping on one foot and then the other. Occasionally she would run toward the front of her yard and bend down on one knee like Elvis, sparkler held high in one hand while using her free hand to wave.
My siblings and I whispered to each other and finally to my Daddy. “Where are the dang fireworks? That’s just Tina and Jerry running around the yard with some dumb old sparklers.”
Yeah, we swore but in our defense, we were very upset.
Without a word, Pop racked his shotgun and fired a single shot. I guess we could have taken our Mason jar glasses and gone inside, but it was North Carolina. Even watching two kids systematically burn up what was surely more than enough sparklers for the whole neighborhood while yelling, “Look at me!” and “I’m gonna do three at one time!” was better than nothing.
(And between you and me, I’d have watched them burn matches if it meant stalling my nightly encounter with the green bean and corn monster.)
Happy 4th of July!
Copyright © 2004-2007, Sherri Bailey
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