The Fourth of July!
The very words conjure up rockets blazing across a black sky; fiery explosions lighting the night; and racketing firecrackers shattering the air.
To a youngster up in the Texas Panhandle, the Fourth was second only to Christmas.
The one day for which we’d hoard our pennies for strings of Black Cat firecrackers, rockets, Roman candles, torpedoes, cherry bombs, baby giants, and sparklers.
I’ve always figured myself lucky to have both a town parent and a country parent.
Let me explain.
Dad grew up in town. Although there were only around 800 folks who lived there, their way of life was different than Mom’s, who lived on a farm ten or twelve miles out of town with her folks and seven siblings.
One of the older sisters, Elva, had earned a beautician’s license, married, and lived in town with her carpenter husband, Jake Green, whose folks owned one of the town’s two hardware stores.
On some holidays, the Fourth included, Mom’s family gathered at Elva’s for the two or three days of family reunion.
Back then, most families were never too far apart that they couldn’t spend four or five hours getting to a central spot.
And always, the women would sit in the house and bring each other up to date on family and neighbors, and the men would squat in the shade of the old oak out back, sipping beer or whatever other beverage was handy.
Out-of-town families came early, and usually there were so many that mattresses were spread on the floors and even in the yard to accommodate sleepers.
That was something I noticed early on. Town families seldom spread pallets or mattresses; country families spread them everywhere. If you had to pay the bathroom a visit at night, you had to clamber over half-a-dozen snoozing folks.
The Fourth was the one day the adults just about ignored us youngsters, knowing as long as they could hear firecrackers popping and kids screaming in glee, no one had drowned in the creek or had been run over by a passing car.
Those holidays in the years right after the war were the ones I remember most vividly for all the men had fought overseas. Some had been wounded, but they all returned.
Now, me and my cousins were typical boys, full of vim and vigor with a heaping tablespoon of mischievousness tossed in for good measure. We were boisterous, loud, prying, and daring. Nothing could hurt us. Of that we were certain. I admit, we could get carried away at times, but instead of Ritalin, our folks used a much more effective medicine. And you didn’t need a prescription for it although it was mighty good for what ailed us. It was called, Leather Belt. Believe me, it cured whatever was bothering us at the time.
Too bad parents today have forgotten it.
Even before sun up, we cousins were all out popping firecrackers. One of our favorite contests was to see how high we could blow a can into the air.
Now, this is was way back before lighter punks, so our older cousin stole a pack of Camel cigarettes from his old man. We lit up. Usually one Camel would take us through a whole string of Black Cats if we popped them one at a time.
There isn’t a boy alive who, given firecrackers and a can, soon doesn’t grow tired of sending the can flying. He looks for further adventure, and one of my cousins found it with rocks stuffed down a pipe.
We huddled around him out between the garage and my uncle’s glassed-in chicken brooder(with a lot of glass) so we’d be out of sight for the grownups. My cousin dropped a handful of rocks in a two-inch pipe about a foot long and stuck a firecracker at the other end. When he lit it, he jammed the firecracker end against the garage wall. Well, in that position, the only way the pipe could point was at the brooder.
I’ll say this. The experiment worked beautifully. Of course, it shattered the brooder. His dad gave him a blistering dose of Leather Belt, made him sit with the men for a few minutes, then turned him loose again. Retribution back then was quick and painful.
We coveted baby giants and cherry bombs. Their fuses were coated with something so they would burn underwater.
We’d tie a baby giant to a rock and toss them in the water. When the firecracker exploded, it was like one of the depth charges you saw at the picture show. Once, Jerry came up with several boxes of Rit Dye. Those were neat, for we’d sink a box with a cherry bomb and when we blew it up, the stain would float to the surface just like in the movies.
More than once, Roman candle fights would erupt with our chasing each other around the yard, ignoring the men cussing us when random balls fell into their midst, sending them scrambling.
At night we set off the rockets, mesmerized by their graceful flaming arcs into a black sky filled with glittering diamonds. In the back of every one of our hooligan heads as we watched the rocket was the wonder of what travel through space was like.
And that night, even before our heads hit the pillow on our pallet, we were asleep. Half-a-dozen, grimy, sweaty little cousins who had put in one busy day.
Yep, all was right with the world.