Rockets Weren’t The Only Thing Glaring

Run, Granny, Run!

Ah, Independence Day, one of my favorite holidays! A favorite of young and old, the Fourth of July always evokes memories of cookouts in the backyard, parades, patriotic bunting flying high and the smell of burnt hair gently wafting on the summer breeze.

I have always been fascinated with exploding things and July Fourth is a quasi-religious holiday for people of my ilk. What could be better than a day devoted to eating barbecue and personally detonating more blackpowder than the entire Union army used during the Second Battle of Bull Run?

Gunpowder has always figured prominently in my life. The magic stuff from Dupont and Winchester has propelled shot and bullets toward real and paper targets while providing the foundation for some of the most memorable moments in life. However, during July’s patriotic celebration, gunpowder takes another, more important role to those who display exceptional immaturity — fireworks.

I first met gunpowder in my youth when a friend of the family inexplicably gave me a red metal cannister with just a few ounces of black powder left inside. After a bit of experimentation, the moment a plastic airplane model disintegrated in a shower of smoke and flame in our backyard, I was hooked.

And, if the reader thinks I have carelessly endangered myself and others, you would be wholly correct.

I eventually realized black powder could be purchased by the pound at the local gun store with little fanfare. This was near the end of the era where dynamite could be bought at any feed store so a teenager buying a pound of gunpowder didn’t raise an eyebrow. While these purchases were ostensibly for the muzzleloader I didn’t yet own, the powder cache disappeared in a much more spectacular way.

As years passed I used the powder to build bigger, more elaborate and increasingly senseless fireworks shows. Always trying to top the previous years in terms of pyrotechnic thrills, some experiments were reported to the authorities by passing aircraft, concerned a munitions plant had exploded.

At the risk the following story violates several local, state, federal laws and common decency, I will courageously step forward to admit it actually happened to a friend of mine, of legal age, in another country, over 50 years ago, and is a work of complete fiction.

One year, in a flash of brilliance — so to speak — my friend had an idea on how to build the most spectacular home-brew fireworks display in human history.

Setting to work the morning of the fourth, he built a large scaffolding of old lumber. Gathering up several cases of fireworks, including an entire gross of large bottle rockets, he utilized a hot glue gun to carefully attach firecrackers, smoke bombs, rockets, sparklers, spinners and all manner of other pyrotechnics to the rig. During this painstaking process, my friend followed standard fireworks safety protocols such as wearing a shirt and having a cold beer stationed nearby.

As the sun set on the backyard gathering, the smaller preliminary fireworks were expended then it was time to dazzle the crowd with the grand finale. Our friend made final preparations by bathing the entire framework in black powder, operating on the principle “more is better, especially when talking about highly dangerous explosives.” As spectators began to nervously retreat, a length of green cannon fuse was stuck into the potentially lethal assembly and lit.

Witnesses and survivors initially disagreed about what had happened when flame met powder. Some believed a meteor had struck the house, while others thought a military fighter jet had accidentally scored a direct napalm hit on our bulk propane tank. All agreed there was a singularly bright flash of light and a really loud noise.

As 144 rockets shot skyward, the other fireworks simultaneously ignited to gush a solid wall of smoke, sparks and flame in all directions. At some point during this uncontrolled firestorm the hair on our friend’s arms began smoking but he didn’t realize the predicament because he was still blinded and crawling around on all fours since he had not retreated nearly as far as the spectators.

Just as things looked most frightening, another crisis arose — dozens of hotdog-sized rockets reached their apogee and were now falling toward the ground. It was later discovered many of the rockets had slow fuses due to the midwestern summer humidity and didn’t burst until reaching the ground. Unfortunately, the impact zone for many of these recalcitrant pyrotechnics happened to be the patio where the spectators were huddled.
As rockets exploded among the panicked group the scene went from terrible chaos into full-on bedlam and it’s a miracle no one was trampled in the melee. Another miracle took place as great-grandmother temporarily regained the gift of mobility when she leapt from her wheelchair and led the assembled group in a series of high-hurdles over a nearby boxwood hedge.

One nephew later estimated her 100-meter time as 4.6 seconds — not bad for an octogenarian.

Fortunately, a garden hose quickly quelled the roof fire, no serious injuries were sustained to persons or property and the hair on my friend’s arm eventually grew back. All and all, it was another great fireworks display.

However, this incident finally made our friend realize the error of his ways and he vowed to stop messing around with fireworks, gunpowder and other such threats to life and limb. I’m happy to report he nearly succeeded, staying “clean” for almost 364 days!

THE DISCLAIMER: Messing around with fireworks and gunpowder is an exceptionally dangerous activity and in many cases illegal. You have been warned — if your eyeballs get fried to a crisp after reading this column, it is not the fault of this writer, the publisher, this magazine, its employees, the printers, the advertisers or the person who delivered the magazine. Now go and have a grand and glorious Independence Day!
My friend certainly will.


Right now, there isn’t a gun to be purchased in America. This is an exaggeration but only just. During the initial phases of the Coronavirus Pandemic, the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) slogged through 3.7 million screenings during the month of March, the highest number ever recorded by the system. It is estimated gun sales increased 85 percent over the same period in 2019. Many firearms retailers, especially in less-2A-friendly states such as California, report having no guns or ammunition in stock by early April. It’s a short-term boost for the industry but hopefully lessons were learned last time there was massive panic buying followed by a period of relative calm.

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