A Long Ago Fourth
I have always loved fireworks. Of course, a zillion years ago, when I was a kid, we not only went to fireworks displays, we watched as our Dads set them off in the street in front of our house. And, if we could come by a string of firecrackers or a few cherry bombs … by hook or by crook … we would set them off in the woods by ourselves. The first time I remember actually buying fireworks was during at a stay at the lakefront home of my father’s boss, Joe. Approximately sixty years have dimmed the details of this story, but I’ll fill them in from my imagination as necessary. Joe had four kids … the oldest was a boy. We’ll call him Billy. I would guess I was about twelve at the time and he was several years older than I. There was a younger sister named June on whom I had a terrible crush but I was a shy twelve year old so it has remained unconfessed until now.
Shortly before Independence Day, Billy and I took Joe’s rowboat across the lake to a fireworks stand on old Route 80. My Dad had given me some just in case money and buying some fireworks seemed like a good just in case. Naturally, being boys, we didn’t buy sparklers and ground flowers. It was cherry bombs, electric cannons, and a few exploding sky rockets. Cherry bombs and electric cannons were serious explosives … they could hurl an empty soup can hundreds of feet in the air, blow a hole in a rotten tree stump … or blow off a twelve year old’s fingers. Somewhere along the line, Billy’s Mom suspected we were up to something and interrogated us separately. He stonewalled but I confessed and so, on the Fourth of July, when our Dads set off our fireworks in front of the house, I was allowed to watch and he was confined to his room. Watching the fireworks wasn’t quite as much fun that year knowing I’d ratted on my friend.
So what is this post about, other than finally shedding a bit of guilt I’ve carried for years? When this story came to mind, I found myself thinking how things have changed since then. Were my parents … and Billy’s … irresponsible for giving us such freedom? Or did they simply believe that the only way to become independent adults was to experience the freedom to make mistakes? I believe I grew up more independent than most kids do these days. Sometimes, the world can be made less dangerous through rules and regulations. But every rule and regulation chips away at our Independence. And Independence is inherently dangerous. I think that’s worth thinking about on this Independence Day. Have a happy and safe one.