Like most country kids, the Fourth of July was a big deal for me, a highly anticipated event. Problem was, my folks couldn’t afford many fireworks. There might have been a sparkler or two and perhaps one package of poppers and I seem to remember getting a roman candle once. But my meager stash of pyrotechnics wasn’t what got me excited about the holiday, it was the annual get-together in Willis with the Hoar Family and their sons, Kenneth and Keith. Kenneth was my age and Keith was that troublesome little brother that always wanted to tag along with us “big” boys. No telling how much grief those kids took about their last name over the years, but I can’t recall any teasing about it back then, a different era.
The Hoar’s ran the grain elevator in the little town of Willis but also sold fireworks out of the office for about a week prior to Independence Day. Kenneth, Keith, and I had the great good fortune of having permission to light off whatever fireworks didn’t sell by the evening of the Fourth. Sometimes there weren’t many left, only the dregs, the least popular, such as assorted sparklers, smoke bombs, things we called “snakes” that made a curly black coil when you set a match to them, and the little bitty firecrackers that no self respecting kid would want called “ladyfingers”. But on one memorable occasion, we hit the jackpot. Maybe Raymond Hoar over stocked or sales were slow that year, but when I first laid eyes on the boxes of free fireworks before me, I thought I must be the luckiest kid in Kansas.
BANG! BOOM! SIZZLE! ZIP! Bottle rockets soared, cone-shaped “fountains” spewed colored sparks in all directions, tubes filled with gunpowder launched balls of exploding light over the entire town followed by deafening explosions that rattled windows and sent cats and dogs running for cover. I think I shot off fireworks for half the night. My ears rang from the multitude of loud reports. The air was filled with the rancid odor of burned paper and gunpowder while a thin layer of smoke slowly drifted over the rooftops. Just when I thought the great night was finally over, I spotted a half dozen or more of the infamous “cherry bombs,’ that little red, round firecracker that was so powerful, it could easily split cans and shatter milk bottles. I’d heard tales of vandals dropping them in porcelain toilets causing great damage.
By now, I had become quite the pro at lighting firecrackers while still in my hand and tossing them high in the air.(I still can’t believe my parents sat right behind me in their lawn chairs and watched me do this insane act). Now I know what you’re thinking. No, the cherry bomb didn’t blow my fingers off. What happened was that the trailing sparks from a tossed bomb ignited the little pile of bombs at my feet. I’m sure all of us have seen video of exploding fireworks stands and factories and that’s exactly what happened between my ankles. KA-WHOOOM!
The next thing I remember is picking myself up off the ground with my mother hovering over me and yelling something that I could not hear a word of. My dad was checking my legs and feet while the rest watched with anxious looks of concern on their faces. It felt like my pants were on fire but that was not the case. There were no burns or damage of any kind to my lower extremities, a lucky break that I’m sure my kids are thankful for today. Then, Keith, the impish little brother, started laughing. After a minute we were all chuckling, all except my mother. The Fourth really did go out with a bang.
It was not the last time during my childhood that I would blow myself up. The outcome of the next foolish stunt was far more serious. But that’s another story.