Independence Day, 1987. My dad had some fireworks stashed in a greasy brown paper bag in the garage. I’d known about them for weeks and begged him to set a few off. He was hesitant because, well, I was 4 years old. Putting me near baby dynamite probably was a bad idea. But I was a pest about it and he gave in.
I remember he walked me to the far side of our small yard, parking me by the birch. “Sit right here and don’t move,” he told me. As he slowly walked to the other side of the yard to prep the pyrotechnics in the driveway, I plugged my fingers into my ears well before I needed to, because that’s what kids do.
I watched him pull out his lighter and squat to set the fuse of an M-80, a powerful firecracker originally made by the U.S. military to simulate artillery fire. His body was between me and the munitions, though, and I couldn’t see anything. So I darted closer to the action where I could enjoy a full view — did I mention I was 4 years old and a complete nuisance?
When the fuse caught, my dad hustled toward the birch tree where he’d left me, and just as he realized I was no longer there, something bright and loud and terrible happened on the pavement about 3 feet from my tiny limbs.
He eventually calmed me down and patiently cleaned me up. He told me I was lucky I hadn’t lost a finger or an eyeball. As he put a Snoopy Band-Aid on my arm where something — a pebble, maybe — had scraped me and drawn a small bead of blood, he made me promise not to tell my mother about the M-80s. “You got it, Dad! Our secret!”
Later that night, after telling my mom all about the loud bang, the ringing in my ears and my awesome Snoopy Band-Aid, she comforted me and told me I was such a brave little boy.
As I fell asleep to the sounds of whistles and pops echoing all over the neighborhood, transfixed by the brilliant reds and blues flashing outside my window, my dad probably got an earful.
Where the fireworks are
Today the best fireworks, M-80s included, are illegal in the United States. And unless the Minnesota Senate votes this year to permit the sale of the “aerial and audible devices” found across our state’s borders, you won’t be able to buy much of anything worthwhile in the land of 10,000 sparklers and Whipper Snappers.
You can, however, purchase some sweet explosives in Wisconsin.
My buddy and his dad were the first to invite me to survey the cache across the St. Croix. I was about 20 and they told me to dredge up every dollar I could; the fireworks shops straddling either side of I-94 were offering two-for-ones on everything from Roman candles to mortar shells and smoke bombs. I came up with about $120.
We walked the aisles of a supermarket-turned-armory, grabbing prepackaged collections of fountains, screamers, Black Cats and Grand Finales. I spent almost every cent and dropped the rest on a Coke. Then we safely tucked our arsenal into a bed of moving blankets in the back seat of an extended-cab Dodge Ram before turning back toward home.
We all gathered in my pal’s suburban driveway a few weeks later on the 3rd of July, as was their custom. More friends and neighbors joined us. They brought their lawn chairs and coolers and kids, all happy to share with each other one night of mayhem instead of suffering through it every night for a week. After greeting everyone, the hosts got right to planning the bombardment. It took nearly an hour to blow through everything, and man, it was fantastic.
Though my childhood encounter with Dad’s M-80 could easily have scared me off fireworks for good, the memory has only made the holiday tradition more enticing. I survived the flash and the bang, and like a roller coaster junkie, I just want to ride and ride again.
Ever since that first journey into the dairy state’s fireworks shop, a bright, oversized coupon has landed in my mailbox every June like an invitation to a birthday party — America’s birthday party. I trek across the border to buy my stockpile because I’m totally unable to resist the allure of the illegal, and because all year long I look forward to my friend’s fireworks fiesta. I enjoy it — from a safe distance.
It’s possible, I suppose, that the neighbors who don’t participate think we’re all jerks, but I’ve never heard them say so. I only hear the ringing.
Brendan Kennealy is a senior copy editor at a content marketing agency and member of the Professional Editors Network. He writes frequently for The Growler magazine, and he loves interviewing but loathes transcribing. He lives with his fiancée in Bloomington, where he has filled an apartment with books and worn-out running shoes. Find him on Twitter: @elbrendano.
ABOUT 10,000 TAKES: 10,000 Takes is a digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota.