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There are 18 states in the nation that allow only “safe and sane” fireworks for public use. North Carolina is one of them.
Safe and sane?
The product or the people using them?
Clearly none of you have been around any of my uncles and their offspring when combustibles and fire combine.
My home state of Kentucky is also a place where only “safe and sane” fireworks are permitted. Like here in North Carolina—where people head down to South Carolina for fireworks—back home people head south to Tennessee. There, Volunteers are happy to share their holiday explosives—available year-round—sold in mega-super-gigantic stores complete with flashing lights, mini Ferris wheels, rocket ships and dinosaurs so you don’t miss them from the highway.
As a kid, it was part of a family tradition for someone to head over the state line to fill a trunk-load of explosives and bring back the holiday fun.
Kentucky State Troopers are keen to the generations-long run, and you could always count on some poor soul being stopped on the side of the road, their holiday extravaganza extinguished.
Like moonshiners of old, the planning and eventual drop-off always took place around my Granny’s house. Like a matriarchal outlaw, Granny had keen instructions for the boys making the run—bring back Roman candles.
A Roman candle is a long tube that, when lit, ejects several colored shells high into the sky.
That’s what makes them illegal in Kentucky and right here in North Carolina. Apparently some lawmakers think there’s nothing “sane” about aerial fireworks, no matter how pretty they are or how many kindly old grandmas they entertain.
I’m pretty sure guys like my uncles are the reasons why.
Each year, after a successful run south, a car would arrive back at my Granny’s where we’d all ohh and ahh over the stash of brightly colored firework packages hidden beneath blankets and tucked beneath seats.
Of course, we kids couldn’t wait until the big day, so there was usually a quick distribution of firecrackers, sparklers and black snakes to keep us entertained.
I can’t count how many burned fingers my cousins and I suffered from sticking match after match to the little black tablets, only to giggle as long lines of ash formed off the end, slithering out like a snake.
Oh, and while my Granny had a million great home remedies, butter on burned fingers isn’t one of her best. It hurt like hell and my cousins and I spent far too many Fourths lathered up with greasy, burned, buttered hands, which also made tossing firecrackers a little bit slippery, but always entertaining.
By the time the Fourth arrived, cars lined my Granny’s long driveway, where men had spent the day tossing horseshoes and drinking beer. The women were usually gossiping, cooking and running dirty, loud children and flies out of the house.
Just as the sun ducked behind the clouds, we kids would run in circles spinning and laughing as sparklers lit up the sky.
Eventually it was time for the big display, where we’d all giggle at the poor fools lighting short wicks and then stepping back rapidly before the eruption of sparks and explosions filled the night sky.
Or sometimes they “dudded” out, leaving an uncle with a cigarette dangling from his lips peering ever too close to a lit—or not?—explosive.
Some of our greatest laughs were from the realization the wick was still burning and the leaps and runs that followed as an uncle ran back for cover.
And of course, always, there were the Roman candles, Granny’s favorite part of the night.
The men would line up a row of bricks, whose circular holes created the perfect resting place for the Roman candle base. Granny would laugh, hands folded across her stomach, as she turned her head toward the eruptions in the sky.
Well, usually, until one or two of my uncles decided it would be way more entertaining to hold the base and maybe, a time or two, shoot them at one another.
Oh, stet, lawmakers. It’s not device you need to legislate—it’s the “sane” people who use them. At least, luckily for all of us, no one ever put an eye out or got set on fire—yet.
Editor’s note: While this column retells childhood memories associated with silly decisions made with fireworks, fireworks safety is no laughing matter. As you prepare for next week’s Fourth of July holiday, be sure to check out this week’s Beacon for more information about fireworks safety.