The Fragrance Of The Fourth

Posted: Monday, June 28, 2010 at 12:49 pm
By: Doug Lund
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I see that the fireworks stands are open for business again. It’s a pretty short season for those guys to sell their inventories and make a few bucks and I hope they have a bang up year but I’m afraid I won’t be one of their customers. I’ve already seen too much of my money go up in smoke on the stock market.   

As a kid, though, I couldn’t wait for this day so I could blow any money I could scrape together on firecrackers.. often by whining to my mother and making promises I wouldn’t keep.

firecracker zebra

I’d peddle my bike up to the Skelly station right across Highway 14 which had laid in a  nifty supply of Roman candles, fountains, rockets, smoke bombs, black snakes, sparklers, lady fingers and fire crackers; LOTS of firecrackers. I can still see them now; piles of colorful packages with bright labels from exotic mysterious China. They came in various sizes and lots of different brand names: Thunder Bomb, Red Devil, Zebra, Wolf Pack and, of course, the more reliable but also more expensive, Black Cats.

I think what I remember most about those days leading up to and including the 4th were the smells.

After the guy at Skelly’s put my purchases, which also included one box each of sparklers and black snakes into a brown paper bag along with a couple free punks, I got my first whiff of black powder compressed into each little tube.

“Don’t you be setting those off anywhere near the building,” the Skelly’s guy said, “This is a gas station. The whole place could go up.”

Mom gave me pretty much the same warning when I got home but I headed straight for the gas stove, turned on a burner and held a punk in the flame until wisps of smoke arose and the aroma of burnt cork filled the kitchen. A couple of quick blows on the end to make sure it was properly lit, then I grabbed my paper bag filled with explosives and out the front door to make some noise.

“You be careful,” mom said, “remember what happened to Denny.”

My older brother had tried to blow his fingers off by holding a Silver Salute too long. It went off about six inches from his hand which caused poor mom to nearly faint when he came home and she saw it wrapped in a blood soaked rag. He sill bears the scars of his foolish bravado.

I sat on the steps opening the first of four firecracker packs; carefully unwinding the strand that weaves around the fuses holding the whole bunch together. I grab one, set it on the sidewalk then touch the punk’s glowing tip to the fuse. Oh, the excitement when it ignites with a hissing sound then eats it’s way back to the business end of the explosive and BANG it  goes off with a report loud enough to draw the attention of neighbor kids who come running over to watch the show.

As my audience grows, I become braver with each firecracker until I hardly run away at all. But then, as quickly as it began, it’s over. All that remain are a few duds so I lay each cylinder flat on the cement, snap them in half until a little powder falls out and light the middle. Sometimes they ignite and twirl around like a runaway water hose and if you slam the heel of your shoe on them just right they still give off a little pop. Most of the time, though, it’s just a fizzle.

I once took one of those duds apart and was amazed to discover that the insides of firecrackers were made from shreds of Chinese newspapers. What an odd thing to see ..printing in a language that uses drawings instead of letters.

fireworks snakeI tried to keep the neighborhood kids interested by setting off a few black snakes that start out looking like a rabbit pellet but when extreme heat is applied will erupt into snaky coils of  carbon that emit a pungent burning tar-like odor. They also leave big black circles on the sidewalk which riled my mother too.

But after dark, I do remember her sitting on the front step watching with delight as my brothers and I lit sparkers that burned so brightly they left a trail of light when we’d swing them around making big circles or writing our names.

Funny, as I think about it now, she worried about firecrackers but didn’t bat an eye at our holding on to welding rods throwing a shower of red hot sparks inches from our noses.


  1. iluvsd says:

    There is nothing like having a jumbo whistling bottle rocket fly into the chicken house and explode…Needless to say the egg supply was much less the next few days and the hens were a tad skittish as well…

  2. Suzan says:

    I remember getting Black Cats and going to the “Dutch School” playground across from Grandma’s. I lit them then threw them in the air. I came awfully close to an exploded finger. My hand was numb, but no blood and all fingers attached. I never shared that with Grandma and was more careful after that! Still love watching a big fireworks show, but don’t care much about buying and lighting them myself. BTW, never knew what the grown-ups meant by the “Dutch School.” I saw kids coming out of there many times and they didn’t look any different to me. No wooden shoes or anything!

  3. Taxpayer says:

    Doug, you bring back a lot of old memories. Some good, and some that could have been bad. In about 1947, my Dad built a trough to lean those giant sky rockets in. He touched one off and his trough fell over at the last second and the rocket took off and whizzed past Grandads head by about 6 inches and flew down the house basement and whizzed around down there a bit and then the earth shattering explosion. Lucky it didn’t burn the house down. In those days, the sky rocket probably cost fifty cents.
    I still have a quart jar about full of what we called “Blockbusters, big firecrackers with a fuse in the side. I believe they cost 5 cents each.
    Thanks for the memories.

  4. SF says:

    Doug—I really appreciate the way you are able to describe the sights, sounds, and even smells in your journal/blog!

  5. FOSH says:

    Doug you brought back many good memories. It was almost a Garrison Keillor-type story in the sense that i could place myself there and could almost smell the the fireworks just reading about it. Very good.

  6. Paul says:

    Bottle rockets thrown by hand was my favorite. I seemed to have ruined a shirt each fireworks season due to the burn holes from the late release.

  7. Randy says:

    Just like there are Chevy guys and Ford guys, John Deere and International and Pepsi and Coke lovers, so are there Zebra fans and Black Cat fans. Based on hours and hours of painstaking experimentation, lighting them off under tin cans, I have to take exception to your contention that Black Cat was the better firecracker. Now, as far as I could tell, the Zebra was just as reliable and argueably more powerful. I do know that a Zebra exploding while being held between one’s thumb and forefinger, caused numbness and blood blisters followed by pain.

    I don’t know if the cans actually went higher with a Zebra under them, but I know that as far as I was concerrned they did. Great blog, Doug. I like the label you chose to display.

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