Monday, July 4, 2016

Blowing up Grandma; or, the best Fourth ever

It looked something like this.
It wasn’t on purpose. We did not intend to blow her up. We loved Grandma, even though she wasn’t Nice Grandma. (Nice Grandma gave us candy and ice cream and Mountain Dew, the last of which she didn’t know was chock-full of caffeine. She couldn’t understand what was getting us ‘all whipped up.’)

Mean Grandma chain-smoked Pall Malls and pulled recalcitrant snakes that she found in her flower gardens in half with her bare hands. My sister woke up late one morning, and Mean Grandma made her eat pork chops for breakfast, a trauma that took her years from which to recover. Nobody messed with Mean Grandma.

We bloodthirsty devil-children loved fireworks. As soon as the seasonal entertainment-munitions tents were pitched by the roadside, we begged to be hauled to them. There our parents would fume as we ran crazily around the enclosure, evaluating the various Zebras, Black Cats, sparklers, snakes, smoke bombs, ground spinners, and Strobing Comet Candles, both on a per-piece basis and as weighed against the huge combo packages we could go in on together and divvy up later.

The hierarchy of fireworks was proportional to the danger they posed. Sparklers, snakes, and smoke bombs were for babies. Fountains and spinners were more our speed. We longed to dash back and forth from the middle of the street in front of our ranch house, wielding a smoldering punk just like the dads wielded their glowing cigarette butts in the night, lighting fuses and backpedaling, over and over again. Zippers were the best; they lit, spun, and then leaped into the air, increasing the odds of becoming lodged into our foreheads, and consequently more beloved.

The arsenal of choice consisted of masses of crisp, crackly packagings of pop-bottle rockets, so-called as they were cylinders of gunpowder stuck to long, thin sticks that were placed in soda-pop bottles and ignited. These could be launched for weeks before and after July 4; they were used for cross-yard wars, or shot at innocent younger siblings and other helpless animals.

We yearned to be driven north from Denver to nearby Wyoming, where explosives laws were lax and the “good stuff” could be gotten, beckoning just beyond that arbitrary, windswept border. There were the fabled M-80s. When we could get these high-powered explosives, we would use them to shoot coffee and pop cans into the sky, out in the fields and fields of unfinished suburban developments that surrounded us. We muttered darkly of one day blowing the lock on the local A & W and guzzling all the root beer we could.

The ultimate goal was, of course, to get the biggest, most beautiful, longest-lived fountain. We worked out way up to a grand finale, then hiked over the hill to see the city shoot off the big show. The year this happened, I believe I finally had a driver’s license, and had been saving my money from working at Taco Time. One afternoon, we ran up to wicked Cheyenne.

Now, I don’t remember seeing the words “mortar,” “aerial shell,” or “artillery” on the suspiciously large piece de resistance we splurged on. We set it out in line with the other pyrotechnical treats, all curated and choreographed to a nonce.

Grandma was none too sprightly by then. She was going on 80, and her reptile-dismembering day were behind her. Still, we exercised a respect tinged with fear. She insisted on being seating in a lawn chair at the end of the driveway, nearest the street, to not miss a second of the festivities.

The show progressed to the Big Finish. We set the monster out on the asphalt, and I lit the fuse. We stepped back briskly and lightly.

Then the most amazing bass CHUFF came out of the device, like it had just shat out a locomotive at top speed; like it was the Kaiser’s Paris Gun, flinging a quarter-ton into the air.

“RUN!” I yelled, and we turned as one, bolting up the driveway. Halfway to the front door, a deafening explosion rattled the area, a fantastic electric-blue burst that froze everything forever for that one second, us, the trees, the cars, our shadows that burst into life in front of us. Haloed in cobalt.

Only 50 feet above, like an enormous azure time-lapse dandelion, the obviously commercial-grade pineapple bloomed. The sparks lashed down at the surrounding roofs and ricocheted back into the sky.

The neighborhood was very quiet, save for the hysterical dogs. We peered nervously through the front door’s tiny diamond-shaped window. Then --

“Where’s Grandma?”

It would be great to pretend that she was sitting there, face comically smudged and smoke ascending from her hair. No. She was still sitting precisely as as she when we had abandoned her. She was just pissed.

She didn’t go with us to see the big fireworks display that year, either. She said she was tired.

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