Tuesday, June 15, 2010

It's only a paper...

Fireworks - the edgy and explosive ones, anything that shot sparks over a distance greater than the length of a child's arm, anything that spun or whistled or fizzed - was forbidden inside Pasadena city limits. Driven once again to rely on our quiet wits, we three children made our own faux contraband out of paper.

Our replicas impersonated, roughly, not only the products but their packaging...boxes for the sparklers, Vesuvius-like cones, firecrackers - which nobody sold legally but many smuggled from Mexico or bought in Chinatown - and unidentified ordnance with string or paper fuses. Patriotic-appearing crafts kept us as busy as we wanted to be through the daylight hours. If we ran out of red or white or blue paper, there were always crayons. We turned out a colorful line.

There were years when, hose and water bucket at the ready, we got to light those charcoalish worms on the driveway or wave sparklers without much gusto behind a hedge. One holiday we did drive to the carnival-garish stand in a reckless, nearby town where we bought the BIG assortment and took it to the grandparents' farm later in the summer to see what we'd been missing. We had hoped for great boomings and things flying into bits. We got whistling and fizzing and spinning. No bang. Still...

Our holiday crafting completed, as dusk settled we sat crossed-legged on the sidewalk at the end of our driveway. Our house faced south and we positioned ourselves on the still-warm cement to look north, over the Chinese elm in the yard, to the display put on at the country club, five blocks further uphill. The shimmering rain seemed so close, the cannon sound thumped in our chests.

To this day, towns with picnics, bicycle parades, watermelon seed spitting contests and retriever-sized dogs wearing red bandanas seem like the 4th of July as presented by Norman Rockwell or Hollywood; I am as removed from them as any fiction. Subdued fun is still fun after a fashion; it is what we knew. I feel uncomfortable in the midst of too much hilarity, too many group endeavors, organized good times...games at baby and bridal showers, I simply shudder. Some of us participate, some of us observe. Over these 65 years, there have been high-wire moments beyond my control which I'd happily delete from my timeline. As July 4 peels off the calendar, I'll strike an imaginary match and lob make-believe cherry bombs from our second floor windows. Then I'll meet you where the watermelons are being sliced.


Erin in Morro Bay said...

I lived in one of those reckless nearby towns,and every 4th of July morning we'd go to one of the stands and ponder on "the biggest bang for our buck". Combined allowances clutched in sweaty palms, the three of us would argue and debate and finally decide on an assortment (plus an extra box of sparklers), The waiting til dark was almost better than actually setting them off(in the same way I've always enjoyed the few days before Christmas more than the holiday itself). And then, there was the morning after, that damp gunpowder smell from the bucket the used fireworks were doused in. And the knowledge that now Independence Day was over and the summer would actually end after all.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I was at a fireworks stand one time when a bunch of kids were pestering what appeared to be their grandpa to buy a big fireworks package.

The cranky grandpa complained the fireworks were all too expensive just to go up in smoke. The kids were unrelenting when grandpa said, "You wanna see fireworks?" and took out a $20 bill lighting it on fire with his cigarette lighter.

Marylinn Kelly said...

Erin - Another soul for whom summers were too long...bet we both got a lot of reading done. My, we envied you, residents of those child-unsafe communities. I also see Christmas the same way...all that build-up, to be over in a day...can we just keep the lights and food a little longer?

Robert - Thank you for the best laugh I may ever have had sitting at this screen. A great eye-witness account.

Penny said...

Fireworks are best viewed from a panoramic distance anyway. We used to bike up a nearby hill and watch from a lookout at the top. Magical - our whole suburb spread out below with everyone's bonfires and fireworks on display.
Your post has brought back a lot of memories.

Donna B. said...

My favorite fire works were seen at the beach after a gorgeous Laguna sunset. I went for the first time on a great first date. We drank wine with crackers and cheese, sitting on a blanket in the sand, and watching the explosions of color which were set off on a floating barge.

The second was driving up to the College with my kids and boyfriend at the time. We'd take snacks and drinks and pick a good spot. The girls played with kids on neighboring blankets. We all laid on our backs like young children and watched, "oooouuuing and awwwwwing" to the magnificent sounds and sights lighting up the sky!

Great memories...thanks for stirring them up!