Growing up in the seventies, we looked forward to the Fourth of July nearly as much as Christmas. Once a year, we shed our Leisure Suits, put away the disco 8-tracks, and prepared for war.
An exhilarating time. And we had no idea how close we were to losing a limb. Such is the invulnerable mind-set of youth.
My parents gave me and my brothers a small allowance to haunt the local fireworks tent. It was like walking into a candy store for sadists. Colorful, alluring packaging promised "showers of color," "dazzling displays," and perhaps most importantly, "multiple explosions." All of them usually lies. And the iconic logo of the "Black Cat" always grinned down at me, challenging me to blow the crap out of stuff. I was always drawn to the huge, cannon-shaped containers attached to a chunk of wood. The warnings slugged on the bottom didn't serve as a deterrent, rather it teased the promise of sheer, unadulterated danger. I never could afford those, but I kept hope alive.
We'd grab our booty, bicycle home and line up our arsenal, arranging them in order to be released. Like a drill sergeant checking out his soldiers in training, I'd rearrange, consider, criticize until everything seemed right. Then the big day would arrive.
The early hours were usually spent blowing up anything we could find. Toy soldiers, tin cans, and various food items provided much enjoyment. I remember one watermelon proving to be a particularly tough nut to crack, but ultimately rewarding. Invariably I'd be disappointed in the sprightly colored cones fizzing out like a little kid's sparkler, but, hey, there're bound to be casualties in war.
When night fell, we grew more daring. Once I sat on the roof of our house shooting bottle-rockets out of a drain gutter at the bullies down the street. I tossed firecrackers at them (waiting 'til the fuse ran dangerously short; sometimes you'd get a fast sizzler, the ones to look out for). One particular psycho set off an M-80 in his backyard, shattering his parents' back windows. Fun! And the buzzbombs? Perhaps the most insidious of all fireworks. You never knew which way they'd take off and where they would explode, a hummingbird dive-bomber with rabies.
When all was said and done, the neighborhood looked like a war-torn battle-zone. Smoke drifted through the street like fog. Multiple explosions sounded far away, threatening yet comforting in an odd way. Tired kids would hobble home, content dopey grins on their faces. For some reason, the cops and parents left us alone even though fireworks were illegal in our neighborhood; different times.
Was it dangerous? Hell, yes, but a rite of passage back in those days. The true meaning of the Fourth of July. (Cue Charlie Brown and gang humming).
Happy Fourth of July, folks, and happy belated birthday to Canada, too. Be safe.