DON’T PUT YOUR EYE OUT — FUN WITH FIREWORKS A Different Celebration for a Different Era
For countless reasons that would fill far more than one newsletter, the late 1970s was a different era — to put it mildly — but a great time to be a kid. Few days of my childhood years made that more apparent than the Fourth of July. When I was a kid, my friends and I chose to honor our great nation’s independence by blowing things up starting around 9 a.m. How exactly we got our hands on some of the fireworks we had back then, I can’t really divulge. But a friend of mine was like an international arms dealer of firecrackers. We used to build a lot of models when I was a kid and build forts to play war games with them (because mothers didn’t allow their kids to be in the house during the day, which was a universal neighborhood law). Model ships, model airplanes, model tanks … you name it, and we probably built it, mostly to blow it up with firecrackers on the Fourth. If we had done stuff like that any day besides the Fourth of July, we would have been labeled as juvenile delinquents. But on July 4th, it was downright patriotic. Our poor mothers probably didn’t realize the full extent of what we were doing but figured they had it covered when they yelled, “Don’t put your eye out!” as we rode off on our bikes. Suspect grammar aside, we heeded that warning. No one ever lost an eye or a finger. We took it seriously by carefully stuffing the models with firecrackers like they were kamikaze planes, lighting a fuse and running away. Another way my friends and I got creative with our Fourth of July explosives was by sticking bottle rockets inside glass Coke bottles and lighting them off to, in theory, send them careening through the sky. Sometimes, however, the Coke bottle would tip over and shoot in another, less ideal direction, like at Mr. Hinchey’s roof, causing panicked screams of “Run!” which we all obeyed, never looking back (Mr. Hinchey had grown daughters and no patience for 11- and 12-year-old boys with explosives and poor aim).
As dangerous as some of this stuff was, however, the mo ther of all firecrackers on the Fourth of July was the (very likely illegal) M80s we would occasionally get our hands on. If some of my childhood friends were to be believed — and I’m not saying that they should be — an M80 was equivalent to one-eighth of a stick of dynamite. Even though that probably wasn’t true, I do remember those M80s making a pretty big boom when we dropped them in a sewer drain. By the time it was dark, we all headed back to our houses to watch some neighborhood dads put on a firework show, which, given the amount of drinking involved, were probably more dangerous than our blowing things up ourselves. I’m surprised no one ever got hurt with those fireworks, except for one guy who lit a firecracker and threw it from his porch, thinking that the fuse was long enough to delay the explosion until it was safely out of range. It wasn’t. Instead, it blew up and reverberated on the porch, giving him some minor hearing damage and some major teasing from the other dads every year after that. Today’s home fireworks and bigger fireworks displays are more controlled and not super dangerous, which is probably a good thing. As a dad myself, I would light off fireworks with other dads for the neighborhood kids, but we always had hoses and water buckets, and only responsible, sober dads lighting the fireworks with kids sitting a safe distance away. It was all totally legit, safe, and legal. But never quite as exciting … Happy Fourth, and if you have to watch fireworks on TV this year, at least you won’t put your eye out. -Frank Kearney
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