Fireworks were so abundant and so easy to get when I was a kid, that I thought you could get them anywhere – the grocery, the local drug store. I didn’t realize till much later that my father – and everybody else in town – had to go all the way across the river to Kentucky to get them.
He always bought a good selection – not just sparklers, but bottle rockets, black cats, cherry bombs, and big stuff like roman candles. He showed us how to set them off, but we were not at all graceful. We’d light them and run, 20-30 feet off. And if the thing didn’t go off, you’d have to decide whether or not to go back and check. Was it a dud? Delayed? Should we light it again? What if it exploded the moment you got near it? I can say that I never knew one of those kids who lost a body part over a firecracker. (Although I did meet a kid on a bus once who shot himself in the leg with his dad’s rifle. But that’s another story.)
But the best fireworks were firecrackers. The ones they sold (and still sell I’m sure) in bricks with the fuses all tangled up and you could separate them out or light the whole thing at once. We’d put them under cans and watch them expode into the air. Miniature dynamite.
The biggest badge of honor was finding a loose, unused firecracker somewhere outside. The kind that had been dropped or abandoned. Bottle rockets that flew off but never exploded. If you found one in the street or the woods, it was better than money. And after a typical Fourth of July, kids would scour the streets for them. Most were duds, but one in a hundred worked. I held onto one for about a year that was perfect and dry before I tried it. When I did, I had no idea what was going to happen. I blew a Folger’s can to kingdom come.
One time, at camp, we did this show that we knew would be perfect if we could end it with big special effects. What we wanted was dry ice – but my friend Kenny said, no problem, he’s got black cats and some cherry bombs. He’s on it. Fortunately, it was at the end of the show, and it didn’t matter so much when the entire building filled up with smoke and everyone ran out of the place, screaming and coughing. No one got hurt. But ten minutes later smoke was still pouring out of the windows.