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May the Fourth Be with You

I’d like to say I loved the 4th of July as a kid because I was a patriot at heart and revered the significance of the occasion. Not so. I loved it because it was exciting and held a touch of danger. Once a year, I got to play with fire—or maybe “flirt with fire” is a better description.

I’m sure there was a public fireworks display in our little town, probably at Gregg Park, the site of “the action” for many occasions. For whatever reason, our family never attended. In fact, I was an adult before I ever saw a fireworks display. So why the fascination?

kids with sparkers

I LOVED playing with sparklers and so did all of my friends. Our parents bought boxes and boxes of the things so that we could play with them as a group. After we’d lit a few and become jaded with mundane activities like writing our names in the sky, we’d become more creative. I remember lighting a sparkler at both ends, but was disappointed to learn that it only burned faster—nothing special there. Sometimes we’d put one in each hand and run around in circles. Other times, like chain smokers, we’d light a new one from the burning-down old one. To show bravery, we’ve put the sparks close to our arms, but they didn’t hurt. Eventually there were even colored sparklers, and giant ones which could be staked in the ground. To keep us safe, Mother always had a bucket of water to douse our burned wires before we lit another. 

The only downside of sparklers was waiting for dark, when they looked the most dramatic. While waiting, we’d light dozens of snakes. Remember those little black tablets, the size of a large aspirin?  We’d set them on the pavement and light the top. Immediately this long black ash would rise, twisting and turning like the snake it was supposed to be. Our hands would get black from handling the ashes, as we tried to use them as mustaches or threw them at each other. Luckily, the adults didn’t mind the black stains left on the pavement for months afterward.  

As we got older, our parents would sometimes let us light firecrackers, but they lacked the allure of our other activities. One loud bang and that was it.  Pretty dull, we thought. Most 4th July activities these days are structured events with little or no spontaneity. Leave it to us Old School types to put fun in the Fourth!   


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