4th of July Story: Waiting for Fireworks
Even at a young age, I was taught to be proud I was a United States citizen. I knew to stand up while reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. I made sure our United States flag never touched the ground. I even tried to sing along as the Star Spangled Banner was being performed, but I was told to mouth the words instead because my singing voice wasn’t good and I sounded disrespectful.
Some people are uncomfortable expressing pride over being an American. Maybe they even feel like it’s arrogant to feel pride in a country. I don’t think my pride is arrogance. I simply recognize that I’m fortunate to live in a country where our U.S. Constitution guarantees certain freedoms and human rights that our government may not arbitrarily take away. This freedom allows Americans to reach our potential in ways that may not be possible in most countries.
The 4th of July is a great time to celebrate those freedoms along with the birth of this country. With that celebration comes lots of fireworks.
“Whatever you do,” Ray explained as he showed us the M-80s he had stolen from his older brother, “don’t hold this while you light it. Put it down. Light the tip of the wick. Then run like hell.”
He demonstrated this process in the local park. It was late afternoon on the 4th of July, and it would be a few more hours before it got dark and parents would let us light fireworks. There were probably six of us elementary school boys gathered around Ray, who was in 8th grade, and there weren’t any parents around.
Ray repeated his instructions and then strolled to the opposite side of the park, trusting me to hold the box of M-80s. Ray set an M-80 on the ground, lit it, and then ran back to us. A few seconds later, it exploded, and we couldn’t believe how loud it was.
All of us jumped in surprise. One boy shrieked like a girl. I think my ears even popped. Ray laughed at our reactions and lit off another one. There was something exhilarating about watching/hearing an M-80 explode. One moment, the park was peaceful; then a violent (but contained) explosion rocked the park, and then a smoky peace returned.
Each one of us took turns lighting an M-80 and running away. I was nervous when it was my turn, but I didn’t have any problems because I had an older brother who smoked, and he would let me light his cigarettes for him.
After a while, we got bored of just lighting M-80s. We started to get creative. We found an old beat-up stuffed bear, put an M-80 into a hole in the bear’s shoulder, lit it, and watched the bear explode into a flurry of fluff. I kind of felt sorry for the stuffed bear. I knew it wasn’t alive, but it deserved better than to get blown apart by an M-80.
We passed a house that belonged to a teacher whom Ray didn’t like. We buried the M-80 in a flower pot on the porch and the pot exploded. Dirt, pottery and bits of flowers scattered in all directions. I didn’t feel bad about the flower pot.
Every time we blew something up, we laughed. It was probably more like a cackle. I knew we shouldn’t have been blowing up stuff, but it was fun. Looking back, I don’t get too down on myself for enjoying this because I was 10, but I still knew blowing up other people’s stuff was a stupid thing to do.
In case you didn’t know, this is what unsupervised kids do. They brain glitch. Even my generation (decades ago), if we knew stuff was wrong, we’d do it anyway, and when an adult asked us why we did something stupid, we’d just say “I don’t know.” When you honestly don’t know why you did something wrong or stupid, that’s the brain glitch.
Don’t get me wrong, a brain glitch isn’t an excuse. As you get older, you have to learn how not to fall for the brain glitches. My dad swung a vicious belt, so the threat of that usually overpowered my normal brain glitch. But the M-80s had magical power. The explosions were mesmerizing. The destruction was compelling.
With dinnertime approaching, we got more daring. We probably should have stopped with the flowerpot. Back then, though, most of our houses didn’t have air conditioning, so the neighborhood was filled with open windows. You could always tell who was home. One kid wanted to scare his older sister, so he snuck up to her window and lit an M-80 next to it outside the house. When it blew up, she screamed and saw us cackling outside the window, and she cussed us out really loud, so we ran. I don’t know why we ran. She’d already seen us.
Scaring people with an M-80 was fun, but we only had a couple left. Ray wanted us to scare the burly guy who lived in the house on the corner. I didn’t have a problem with the guy on the corner, but Ray hated him. Ray told us that the guy had threatened to shoot him if he saw Ray again, so Ray didn’t want to be the one to sneak up on the house. He promised us that the burly guy wouldn’t shoot any of us, as long as he didn’t see the M-80.
“Jimmy,” Ray said, handing me an M-80. “You do it.”
I didn’t want to do it. I was scared of the guy on the corner, even without the threat of being shot. He was big, burly, and hairy. I could sometimes hear him yelling at people from way down the street. My parents told me he was okay if you didn’t make him mad but to stay away from him anyway. I didn’t want to sneak up on his house with an M-80. Even at my age, I knew that was a bad idea.
“Why me?” I asked.
“Because you look innocent.”
That made sense to me. I had been told many times that I looked like a sweet kid, so I understood Ray’s logic. Even though I looked innocent, I knew how to light an M-80. I knew how to sneak up on a house. I knew how to run like hell. If I planned this right, maybe I could blow this M-80 without the burly neighbor even knowing that it was me who’d done it. This was a spontaneous plan, but it could work, I kept thinking as I psyched myself up to blow up an M-80 by the burly neighbor’s house.
You know these things never turn out quite as you expect.
To be concluded in 4th of July Story: The Kid Who Got his Thumb Blown Off.
Or read the first episode at 4th of July Story: The Box of M-80s.