4th of July Story: The Box of M-80s
I was 10 when the United States turned 200 years old. It was a big deal back then, but at the time, the meaning of the 4th of July was lost on me. As an adult, I understand July 4th is the annual celebration of the signing and approval of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress.
I understand how important the following sentence from The Declaration of Independence is:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
That one sentence had a bunch of concepts that were unique way back in 1776.
The Declaration of Independence is also known for John Hancock’s really big signature. As an adult, I appreciate how momentous the signing of that document was and how it began the process of liberating the colonies and forming one of the greatest nations in the world. I also appreciate John Hancock’s really big signature. Several jokes have been made about how a guy named John Hancock had a really big signature.
When I was a kid, I didn’t understand all this, including the John Hancock jokes. Back when I was 10, the 4th of July was about shooting off fireworks. And 1976 was a great year to shoot off fireworks.
Back then I lived in a rural town. It wasn’t a suburb. It was a small town over an hour away from the closest city. Nobody ever came to our town to visit. You only went there to live.
I don’t want to sound crude and perpetuate stereotypes, but my friends and I were all pale with necks of red. When we went shirtless during the summer, you could tell what we had worn the rest of the year by the borders of red along our necks. I wore collared pullover shirts, so I had a v-neck of red. Most of my friends wore t-shirts or sweaters, so their necks of red were all circular. Now people can’t tell that I have a neck of red because I wear long sleeve collared shirts and ties most of the time. I am a middle-aged, clean cut guy who speaks properly.
Summer days in a rural town in 1976 could be kind of boring. There was no cable television. We had one movie theater, but it took at least a year for a good movie to get there after it had been released. It was 1976, and we still hadn’t seen the movie Jaws yet. Everybody wanted to see Jaws. We didn’t even live near a beach. We had a lake, but we weren’t supposed to swim in it because some horses had taken dumps in it and a kid had gone blind because of the bacteria. Looking back, our lake was more dangerous than a beach, and we didn’t have any sharks.
Since we were bored, we wandered around a lot that day. We threw rocks at a kid from another neighborhood, but we didn’t really try to hit him. It was fun just scaring him. We rode our bikes to a nearby cliff and threw stuff (nothing alive) off of it.
We were looking forward to the fireworks that night. Our parents would let us light firecrackers and run around with the sparklers. But none of that would get started until it got dark, and that was hours and hours away. We had to find stuff to do to kill the time.
There were probably six of us riding our bikes around, but none of their names are important to the story (because I’m trying to keep it short). We were all within a grade or two of each other. After a while, one or two kids would go home and then another kid or two would take his place. We were interchangeable. I went home once and ate lunch and read comic books and then got on my bike until I found them again.
Things picked up later in the afternoon when we ran into Ray. My mom didn’t like Ray. He was the only boy who wasn’t allowed to come over to my house. He was about three years older than the rest of us, and he didn’t have any friends his own age. He cussed all the time and smoked cigarettes, and his parents were never home, so he was fun to hang out with. He also had a couple big dogs (but I don’t remember the breed because back then Rottweilers and pit bulls weren’t popular).
“C’mere!” he yelled at us from down the street. He didn’t have a bike, but this day he had a box. We gathered around him and peeked inside. I didn’t recognize the contents. I knew they were something like really big firecrackers, thick red cardboard tubes with long wicks sticking out, but they were far bigger than anything my dad let me light off. I didn’t want to look stupid, so I kept my mouth shut and pretended like I knew what they were called.
“What’s that?” some other kid asked.
“M-80s!” Ray said proudly. I had never heard of an M-80 before. A few other kids had, and so they made some exaggerated gasping sounds.
“Where did you get them?” a kid asked.
“Older brother. He left them lying around.”
“What are you going to do with them?”
“What do you think, dipsh*t!” Ray said. “We’re going to blow some sh*t up!”
And with that, our 4th of July started early.
To be continued in 4th of July Story: Waiting for Fireworks.