Tuesday, July 3, 2007


Each year at this time I yearn for firework stands. In suburbia they use to magically pop up in vacant lots and parking lots around my neighborhood a week before July 4th. They had a whiff of circus about them, with their paper broadsides pasted up over last year's designs. Red devils emanating spark mandalas from their pitchforks, black cats, American flags..and always the legend : SAFE & SANE ! We would raid our banks and beg for quarters and dimes to go pick out some treasures.

Fountains, sparklers, snakes, House of Smoke, pinwheels, Piccolo Petes. Do not hold in hand. My father would get donations from the other neighbors and go in the afternoon to buy the Block Party Assortment, a huge box of potential light and sound that could run you up to !! forty dollars !!

As evening descended on the fourth, my mom & dad would begin to set up for the display. Folding lawn chairs would come out, a bucket of water and a chalked out no-go safety area in our driveway. My mom always made potato salad. Pop would grill burgers. My neighbors would show up around seven. Nell Marie Fotheringham and her evil sister Sue. Mr. & Mrs. Rowan. Annabell and Dave from next door. Mike Brion and his capenter dad and sad sighing mother. Linda Senise from across the street. We'd eat and us kids would run around the lawns as the grown ups prepared for The Display.

Gradually we'd drift back from our games to start the warm-up festivities. First some snakes..put them on the pavement and light them and a long gross grey ash would bubble out from the little fiery tablet. It would leave a round mark on the sidewalk,which was the coolest thing about them. Then the Cabin of Smoke which was a fold-together log cabin box with a firecrackerlike tube where the chimney should be. Light it and a voluminous amount of sulfery smoke would shoot out. To this day that is the smell of Independence Day to me. Sulfer. Is there a hidden message in there somewhere ? Both snakes and smoke houses were vaguely anarchist, reminding me of vandals raiding and burning..

As it actually got dark it was time for sparklers. The white ones were best. You had to wave them around and then light a new one from the lit one before it went out. Something about time being precious and fleetingness. Then the big show started , with all of us in lawn chairs, ooooohing and ahhhing after each display. my father would call out the name of each firework before he would light it, like announcing an act in a vaudville show: "Fountain of Pearls!" "Double Rainbow Salute!"

Oooooohhh. Ahhhhhh.

After it was all over and everyone had gone home my little sister and I would pick up the charred remainders. We would sort them out and soak the burnt cylinders in the sink and unravel them. Inside would be another treasure - Chinese newspaper
with real china writing on it from the mysterious east - where fireworks were invented long before we were born.

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