Skip to content

4th of July Story: The Kid Who Got His Thumb Blown Off

July 4, 2016
(image via wikimedia)

(image via wikimedia)

The 4th of July is a weird holiday.  Not everybody gets the day off.  We don’t exchange gifts.  We don’t eat a big feast.  We might go to a parade, but we pretty much don’t do anything until it gets dark, and then we watch a giant fireworks display.

Back in 1976 when the United States turned 200 years old, I lived in a rural area where we’d have to drive about 20 miles to see the county’s lame fireworks show.  In our community a lot of us were pale and had necks of red, and people with necks of red don’t like watching somebody they don’t know (like an outside entity hired by a community leader) shoot off fireworks, no matter how impressive the display is.  Most people with necks of red would rather control the fireworks themselves, even if it’s just a bunch of firecrackers and sparklers.

It took a long time for it to get dark on July 4, 1976.  Even when we were blowing up M-80s all over town, time passed slowly.  Eight boys, a box of M-80s, no adult supervision, and a slow-moving day, that’s a really bad combination.

(If you haven’t read the first part of the story, you can start here.)

The M-80s belonged to Ray who had stolen them from his older brother.  I had been peer-pressured into lighting an M-80 outside an open window of a burly neighbor who was emotionally unstable and owned a shotgun (another really bad combination).  He had even threatened to shoot Ray (according to Ray).  I was 10, so I was stupid enough to carry out somebody else’s bad ideas.

Just so you know, I learned from this experience.  I later became the guy who thought of the bad ideas but was smart enough to let somebody else try them out.

Anyway, I knew that several things could go wrong.  I could blow my hands off with the M-80.  I could be seen by an adult blowing up the M-80, and they’d tell my dad who would beat me with his belt.  I could get caught by the burly neighbor, who’d then want to shoot me.  I could get shot before I even made it to the porch.

My plan was to approach the house from the side, light the M-80 near his front door (which was wide open), then brazenly run in a straight line away from the house as fast and far as I could toward the other boys.  That way if the burly guy saw me, he’d just see my back as I was running with a bunch of other shirtless boys.  Only Ray would stand out from the rest of us.  Nobody would mind if Ray got shot.  His older brother was probably going to kill him anyway once he found out his M-80s were gone.

Still, I didn’t want my hand to get blown off by the M-80.  I also didn’t want to get shot by the burly guy.

The rest of the boys stood in a pack a few houses down the street.  Anybody who saw us should have known something bad was about to happen.  All the houses were one-story, and most were built the same way with a side driveway, then a living room in the front and two small bedrooms on the other side of the front door.  I kept low with my back to the house so that the burly neighbor wouldn’t see me from inside.    I crept past the living room window, fumbled with the matches, lit the tip of the fuse, and ran like hell.

I must have been fast because I passed my friends before the M-80 even blew.  They watched me sprint by and stayed in their pack.  I was at least halfway down the block before that M-80 went off.   I stood my ground by the stop sign, watching the burly guy’s front door as my friends sped toward me.  All of us stood by the corner waiting for the burly guy to plod out.  I had images of a shirtless hairy guy with his gut hanging over his shorts.  Maybe he’d even come out with his gun.  Maybe he’d take a shot at us, but we were too far away.  This had gone better than I’d expected.

Except nobody came out.  We stood there for a couple minutes, but nothing happened.  We were puzzled.  His windows were open.  His front door was wide open.  Other adults in the neighborhood looked out of their windows to see what was going on. We knew the burly guy was home.  How come he hadn’t rushed out?

“He’s probably taking a sh*t,” Ray said.

“Should we try it again?” a kid asked.  We had one more M-80.

“If you want to get shot, go ahead.”

Everybody seemed let down except me.  I was glad he hadn’t come out.

If this seems anti-climactic, I can’t help it.  That’s just the way it happened.  I was thinking of making the story more dramatic with the burly guy running out with a shotgun.  Maybe he could have shot Ray (that would have been a crowd-pleaser), but it didn’t happen that way.  I never found out what the burly guy was doing, and I probably don’t want to know.

The thing is, I missed the best part of the whole story.  We split up a few minutes later because we’d almost run out of M-80s and it was close to dinnertime.  Most of us would see each other later when our parents let us blow up firecrackers that evening.

I wasn’t there when Ray blew up his thumb.  He lived in another part of the neighborhood, and he always did his thing without supervision as much as possible.  The story was that Ray had run out of M-80s and was blowing stuff up with smaller kinds of explosives.  While he was in the process of lighting some kind of firecracker, an adult came out and yelled at Ray to stop.  I guess Ray got distracted or argued with the adult or panicked, but by the time he got rid of the firecracker, it was too late.  Whatever it was went off and shredded his hand.

A few days later, when my dad heard about Ray losing a thumb, he said calmly, “He shall soon be a frustrated young man.”

My older brothers laughed, and I didn’t understand.  A few years later, I figured it out.

That’s how life is.  We had spent July 4th trying not to get hurt with an M-80, and then Ray gets disfigured with something as common as a firecracker.

For a few weeks Ray had a cast/bandage on his hand.  After that, he had a stump for a thumb.  Ray liked to show off the stump to make girls gag, but he was embarrassed by it too.  From then on, Ray was the guy who was too dumb to light fireworks, but he didn’t stop.  Two summers later, right before we moved, I saw Ray blowing up dolls, telling younger kids to light-and-run.  And then he’d show them his stump as a reminder.  He was using his stump as a teachable moment, even though the term “teachable moment” hadn’t been invented yet.


I don’t remember which fireworks we blew up that night.  It wasn’t as spectacular as vandalizing the community with M-80s, but the whole neighborhood was out there, so it was a lot more fun.  Our parents were drinking, but in a good way, and it was a giant party.  Even when we ran out of firecrackers, we stayed out for a long time.  It was 1976.  The United States was 200 years old.  We had some celebrating to do.



What is your favorite 4th of July memory?  Have you ever embellished a true story to make it more dramatic?

From → Dysfunctileaks

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: