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Celebrating the fourth

By Staff | Jun 28, 2012

That particularly American holiday is upon us, the one wherein millions of dollars are turned into bursts of flame and clouds of acrid smoke.

But enough about my efforts at backyard barbecuing. The Fourth of July is also about celebrating our nation’s birthday with fireworks.

When I was a kid, the mere mention of that word was enough to send me into a swoon of joyous anticipation.

Boys and fireworks go together like tadpoles and pond water. Few things can make a boy more giddy than the thought of the approaching Fourth of July and its federally mandated fireworks purchases.

We would plan our fireworks acquisitions weeks in advance, saving our allowances and dreaming of the big bangs we would get for our bucks. In a happy coincidence, the spring pullets would begin laying at the end of June, and my sister Diann and I would rake in the cash by hunting for and collecting pullet eggs.

This was an extremely lucrative business, earning us up to a dollar per week – each.

The fact that The Fourth and the extra cash arrived at about the same time could only be interpreted as a sign that the fates wanted us to buy lots of fireworks.

Thanks to a series of educational films starring Wile E. Coyote, my brothers and I learned that bigger fireworks are always better fireworks. We also saw how dangerous large fireworks can be, even though Wile E. inevitably seemed OK after his gunpowder-powered mishaps. Well, sort of OK.

The main shortfall of fireworks is their astonishingly short lifespan. Hands sweating, you light the fuse; there’s a fizz and a pop and – poof. It’s all over and you’re left wondering “is that all there is?” In other words, it was an experience that would find deep parallels on my prom night.

After becoming skilled with standard fireworks, we boys began to crave pyrotechnics whose explosive yields were measured in megatons, something that would send shock waves rippling across the cosmos and maybe even tear a hole in the space-time continuum.

Sadly, our local fireworks stand offered no such devices.

So we had no choice but to try to build such things on our own. Our pre-Fourth planning included thinking of ways to transform standard fireworks into something truly epic.

The easiest method for accomplishing this, we thought, would be to simply tie a bunch of firecrackers into a bundle and light all their fuses at once. Such a device was constructed, but alas. We forgot that not all fuses burn at the same rate.

The initial explosions sent lit firecrackers flying in all directions, including at us. There followed an exciting few seconds wherein firecrackers detonated everywhere, above our heads and at our feet. Dumb luck saved us from serious injury, although our ears rang like the Liberty Bell.

Another plan that was discussed involved attaching bottle rockets to our bike. Our hearts fluttered as we imagined the thrill of riding a bottle rocket-powered bike at supersonic speeds.

This idea never got past the discussion phase when we realized that each bottle rocket comes with a report, that is, a firecracker-like explosion at the end of their brief lives. With our ears still stinging from the mega-firecracker debacle, there were no volunteers to pilot the proposed bottle rocket bike.

We got through the fireworks phase of our lives with fingers and eyes still intact and only moderate hearing loss. Our Fourth of July nowadays involves a quiet family potluck picnic at the home of my sister Kathy and her husband, Barry.

Barry is a handyman extraordinaire. His daredevil feats of woodworking make my feeble carpentry efforts look like popsicle sticks and glue.

Some years ago Barry built a couple of beanbag toss games. Needless to say, their construction was above excellent.

The Fourth finds our family gathered at Kathy and Barry’s, eating way too much food and participating in an afternoon beanbag toss tournament.

The heat of the day and the excitement of the tournament requires serious hydration, usually in the form of fermented barley juice.

The tournament is all in good fun. The trouble is, some people cannot participate in a tournament and let it just be fun. Winning is a much higher priority.

These are the same people who, as kids, took Monopoly games much too seriously, constantly leveling charges of cheating even though there is clearly no rule that specifically prohibits the banker from giving himself an interest-free loan to construct a hotel on Boardwalk.

So the beanbag toss tournament can become rather intense.

And if certain people land in a top bracket and become locked in a close game, look out.

There will be fireworks.

Nelson is a freelance writer from Volga, S.D. Reach him by e-mail at jjpcnels@itctel.com.

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