The Rockets’ Red Glare

Now that the Fourth of July, 2013 is history and pet dogs have entered another round of therapy for PTSD, I wondered where the tradition of igniting loud explosive pyrotechnic devices to celebrate the day actually began. After extensive and exhaustive research and a large quantity of grain alcohol, I learned that the widely accepted story wasn’t true—the one stating George Washington started it all when his father discovered that young George had chopped down his favorite cherry tree and George told him it was to make cherry bombs. George couldn’t tell a lie, so he was forced to invent a cherry bomb and his father, now convinced George had told the truth, didn’t beat him. Later, George blew up the family’s mailbox, and his father did beat him. Hard to believe, but none of that is true.

No, the pyrotechnics were actually to commemorate an eighteenth-century Valentine Day incident when four of Al Capone’s men, disguised as tubes of moisturizer and armed with 155mm Roman candles, blew away a handful of Mary Kay million-dollar sales ladies at their private sales meeting. The location was discovered when Capone saw the pink Mary Kay horses parked out in the street.

February was too cold to commemorate anything, so festivities were moved to July 4th in the middle of summer when it was hot, a much better time to have parades, shoot the exploding things into the sky, drink beer, slather on Mary Kay Sunscreen and sign national historical documents. Much to the consternation of pets everywhere, a tradition was established.

When I was growing up you could get fireworks anywhere. You could even find Flaming Death Pinwheels and Skyrockets of Armageddon in boxes of Cracker Jack or purchase Roman candles from the Girl Scouts in lieu of cookies and have great Roman candle fights—the 1950s version of laser tag. For you younger readers, Roman candles were longish cardboard tubes with a fuse, which when lit, shot out eight or more balls of colored fire preferably at another kid who, if he was smart, had already lit his own Roman candle and was ready to fire back before he was turned into an overly-toasted S’more. The evening was considered a success if there were at least a half dozen flaming children running through the yards. We knew how to have a good time!

These days, you can’t even strike a match if you’re under 12 without having a fire truck, rescue wagon and two squad cars screeching up to your front door to hose you down, haul you to the emergency room and cite you for attempted manslaughter. We still have wimpy sparklers that are no fun. For us kids, the only use for sparklers was to light the fuses of more lethal, colorful, detonations that, according to our parents, were sure to lead to our eventual, unavoidable demise.

Because of current laws, the 4th is much tamer, regardless of what your dog may tell you. Why don’t we all forget about what the Consumer Product Safety (“We Take the Joy Out of Everything”) Commission says and contact our representatives in Congress to see if we can’t get these anti-fireworks laws repealed and put fun back in the 4th? And be sure to let them know that the Fourth of July is not in February.

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