The Aroma Of The Fourth

Posted: Thursday, June 28, 2012 at 6:59 pm
By: Doug Lund
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As long as others in the entertainment business don’t have a problem presenting Summer re-runs, I thought I might drag out a  timely blog written a couple years ago; sharing some Fourth of July memories from my youth.  Enjoy and, hey, be careful out there.

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.

black cat

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.

bllack cat zebraI 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.

I 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.

sparklerBut 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. Cam Lind says:

    Memory lane is a great address to go back to for us old guys.

  2. Crawford Tillinghast says:

    As I often say whenever the season rolls around…I love the smell of gunpowder in the morning.

  3. Lynnal Nelson says:

    our dad was a wreck with us 3 girls & firecrackers! He made us use only “lady fingers’…..they hardly popped at all & to top it off, we had to put it in the crack of a tree, light it, & run as fast as we could away from it………..& sparklers…, well that was another story…. he would sit with a coffee can, he would light the sparkler & say “now just stand right here & twirl it”……then when there was still some left, he would make us stop so as soon as it was out, it got thrown into the coffee can. It wasn’t alot of fun for us I guess & to this day I still have a bit of fear leftover. Please everyone, be safe!!! Thanks for the memories Doug, you Rock!

  4. GMAX9 says:

    Ahh, the memories. So much fun, even the time I blew my thumbnail off with a double twisted Black Cat combo. It was a family day – spent with siblings, parents, neighbor kids and, if lucky, it included a picnic with friends. Sometimes there was a parade, depending on where we lived at the time.

    Of course we were shocked the year we stopped to visit some family friends only to find their 2 kids w/out eyebrows and eyelashes and burns on their faces from looking at a “dud” that went off in their faces. They were so lucky not to have eye damage. Made us a little more cautious after that.

    Enjoy the 4th but please do so safely.

  5. Sam Handwich says:

    As a teenager, I remember the “Side Fusers” and “Cherry Bombs”. Those were some bad boys alright. And lighting the entire pack of the smaller fire crackers at once, was a fun too. Luckily, I still have hearing, sight, and the use of all my fingers!!

  6. Donn says:

    Identical memories to mine, Doug. We also stepped it up a notch, and had bottle rocket wars on the street, 2 or 3 kids on each side a couple houses apart, and shoot them at each other. Lot’s of fun.

  7. Eric says:

    My mom never minded sparklers until we caught wind about how to make them into a miniture nuclear bomb. We would get two boxes of spraklers and bundle them tightly together, wrapping them tightly in electrical tape. One sparkler would stick out further then the rest to act as a wick. When that lit off it put a black hole in the ground. Old TV’s would be pulverized. Kids, dont try that at home. Once mom heard about what we were doing as ten year olds with those harmless little sparklers, firecrackers were pretty much banned from our house.

  8. Jeni says:

    One time, when my brothers were kids, they planted a “cherry bomb” near a woden fence post.

    Because the grass was dry, the fence post and grass caught on fire. Fortunately, the fence was a barbed wire fence, and the fire was put out before much damage was done or could spread. That little lesson taught my brothers to be more respectful of the power of fire.

    I liked the sparklers, but disliked the fire crackers because they were too loud.

    Best of all though, was attending the firework display held for the community at a park where there was a pond. It was great seeing the fireworks in the air, and being relected on the pond.

    Thank you for the memory.

  9. Per Pål P says:

    It was always a great time when we got to “sneak the back roads” to South Dakota from Westbrook, Minnesota to “stock up” on fireworks….I sure miss those big Cherry Bombs…and the big firecrackers with the wick in the side….As kids, we would put a cigarette on the wick….then head for another part of town and watch the local cop try to find out who and where…(hmmmm maybe he knew…do you think?) were the kids setting off those extra loud reports. I sure do miss those days…

  10. Hemmingsen says:

    Does anybody remember, as a kid, scavenging for duds, breaking them in half, lighting the middle and stomping on them with you shoe? Bang! Don’t know why it worked, but it did.

  11. Per Pål P says:

    Ja…I remember doing that. What were those big “silver barrel” type firecrackers called ?
    T N T Bombs ? I think they came in several sizes including one that was about an inch in diameter, maybe an inch and a half long with the fuse in the side…. Uffda…they were POWERFUL…Not only blow a can in the air…they’d blow a can up….I’m sure glad I got to use them….I’m gladder yet that my grandkids don’t even know about them. At least I think they don’t know about them.

  12. Stuart Surma says:

    Our Aunt, Uncle & 2 boys from Chicago used to come to our farm every year over the forth of July. They couldn’t buy or shoot fireworks by Chicago so they would buy a big box of fireworks here & we would have a fireworks show at our farm every year. My daughter got married this past weekend in the hills , and my 2 cousins from Northbrook, Ill. were there remembering the good old days of the 4th’s we shared together! Stu Surma

  13. Bob says:

    The silver barreel type firecrakers we called “Silver Salute”, probably was more than one name for them. Those and Cherry Bombs could take a finger off in a hurry if you were not careful.

  14. JD says:

    the barrel-shaped weapon was called a “Silver Salute”

  15. Per Pål P says:

    Was there ever a “firecracker” called the TNT Bomb? And Ja Bob…..a finger and more. Uffda…They were terrible…But… maybe kinda fun? I know my grandchildren don’t read this blog…so I can say that.

  16. Carol says:

    My husband would crawl up the outside of the solo and throw a cherry bomb down inside and it was heard for miles. Almost like a atomic bomb.

  17. Claude M. says:

    Well, Sioux Falls had to have a casino in Iowa help buy the fireworks,
    but it was still a great show.
    I,m just curious….how can little tiny towns like Lennox, Freeman,
    Inwood, and a zillion others manage to buy there OWN fireworks, yet
    the biggest city in the state can’t ?
    You’d think some of the big mega buisness people dotting the city could
    or would help donate.
    Sure, the tiny towns are’nt spending as much for fireworks, but they also don’t have the big city $$$$ floating around.

  18. gary says:

    The most powerful crackers were the sparkly silver coated ones with the fuse in the side and were called “Bull Dogs”. They would go off under water. Broke a board in the bottom of a full wooden stock tank with one of those back in the late forties.

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