I don’t know what the 4th of July meant to you as a child, but to us it always meant war. It was an arms race of burned fingers and fireworks. The city park was ablaze. Our house was situated on one of the surrounding streets and our backyard bled right into acres of grass, rusty playground equipment, and vandalized pavilions. The park was our backyard on Magnolia street, one we were constantly having to protect from invaders.
It felt like the wild west. The fields were littered with broken glass. Our garden was often robbed of its fruit, or sometimes just ransacked for the hell of it. We did our own damage, of course, beating the bark off trees with sports equipment and lighting grass fires.
Independence Day was no exception. Any time fireworks were being sold, there was violence to be had. There’s nothing like repeatedly flicking a depleted lighter with numb, burned fingers in the frigid black of New Year’s Eve while being charged by someone with a battery of Saturn Missiles. We’d carry lit punks in our teeth like machine gunners chomping a Parliament. Some of the rougher kids probably skipped the metaphor altogether and used a cig.
I do not know how we weren’t permanently maimed. We were burned plenty, first and second degree, and it wasn’t uncommon for a Roman Candle bazooka to backfire and end up cooking someone’s hand.
My aptly named friend, John Adams, had always invented some new contraption for firing bottle rockets without getting sparked. The other neighbor kids did, as well, and our innovation approached Butter Battle Book levels of ridiculousness. By our later teens we made grenades with medicine bottles and gunpowder. This was before, back when you could draw a map of the school on fire and maybe elicit a chuckle from your teacher. We just liked blowing shit up. Who doesn’t?
I salute all you old pyromaniacs, you engineers of grade school combustion. Here’s to unsupervised childhoods survived. Here’s to nitrate nostalgia. Here’s to fingers, intact.