In Praise of Pyrotechnics…

Growing up with four older brothers in small town Ohio, Independence Day had a special significance for all of us. It meant cooking out, tossing the football around, and seeing my Dad take an all-too rare day off work.

More importantly, it meant blowing things up.

Various pyrotechnics were either brought into the house surreptitiously, or (more often the case) home made from the various flammable items available in our Dad's garage. The year my brother Tom made the bazooka out of beer cans, duct tape, a tennis ball, and some gasoline stands high on the long list of memories that make my mom's hair stand on end. Sadly, liability precludes me from including the exact instructions here (Note: Go easy on the gasoline. It's the vapor that you want to ignite, NOT the liquid. Too little gas will just burn like a candle; too much, and you're likely to lose your hand.)

Another memorable year was spent igniting bottle rockets and roman candles in our back yard. In the midst of our hijinks, a police cruiser pulled into the access road behind our house with his spotlight cast upon us. I still have a scar on my forehead from where I smacked headlong into a bird feeder while sprinting into the house.

Of course, it wasn't the local police, merely another brother who snuck out with a flashlight and the family car to see if he could get us running. Mission accomplished, ruse complete. Game, set and match.

So what is it with Independence Day and fireworks? Is this one of those traditions that developed well after the fact and has now become engrained as part of our culture, like jack o'lanterns on Halloween?

Not at all. If i may quote from the Virginia Gazette's account of Independence day, recorded on July 18, 1777:

The evening was closed with the ringing of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks, which began and concluded with thirteen rockets on the commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated. Every thing was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal. Thus may the 4th of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America, by the sons of freedom, from age to age till time shall be no more.

So there you have it. Not only are fireworks as all American as hot dogs and apple pie, they go back historically much further. They can also do considerable damage, so please leave the displays to the professionals.

Have a safe and joyful Independence Day holiday. And if you see someone with fireworks, tell them it's illegal.