July 23, 2024

Column: “That Got Me to Thinkin’…?” “Ka-BOOM”


“That Got Me To Thinkin’…?” “Ka-BOOM” Chapter 55
By Bruce Williams

Bruce Williams


My obsession with fireworks began as a kid—the first time I saw my grandma’s neighbor foolishly drop an M-80 into a paint can and viewed the shrapnel afterward that had gone with the big boom.  And not the Safe and Sane variety sold in the parking lot of your local supermarket chain—the “snakes” that grow out of black pellets, the sparklers and ineffectual cones—no, I’m talking about the big stuff you had to go out to the reservation to get.  The ones with names like “Grounds for Divorce”, “Neighbor Hater” or “Pyro Viagra”—ones that had the coveted “with report” label that would cause little boys to whisper conspiratorially, “…that means they blow up (!)”

My buddy Joe and I were both hooked—spending entire days blowing up giant ant piles we’d find on their property, or building army men battle scenes—complete with a hose-fueled river running through our regiments—and then dropping aerial bombs from above until the whole thing was destroyed by the Black Cat firecrackers I had talked my grandfather into giving me.  As we aged into high school and got our driver’s licenses, we’d haul ourselves out to Nisqually for bottle rockets—chasing each other around our half-acre shooting them at each other from out of the little holes at the bottom of whiffleball bats.  When one of us had a particularly well-aimed shot blow up right next to our ears, we opted to switch to the whistling variety so you could hear them coming better and be able to duck faster.  Because, you know…safety.  My mom would come out and holler:

“You guys aren’t shooting those at each other, are you?”

“No, mom…”

“We’ll…you better not be.  You’ll put an eye out!”

My grandma’s house at Black Lake always had a big extravaganza—maybe not as big as the professional show over at Capitol Lake, but considering we got to light everything, it was so much juicier.  Dropping mortars into the tube and hearing the glorious “whoosh!” as they ignited and flew impossibly skyward…manifesting themselves into a glittery shower of brilliant colors followed by that satisfying “BOOM!” emanating from the dissipated middle when you almost thought it was over as if to say, “Did you forget about me?”  All around the lake there were competitions going on to see who could foolishly blow the most money on this frivolity—all done to celebrate our nation’s birthday after all—in the biggest and most grotesque way without blowing off a finger or starting a brush fire.  The recklessness that alcohol was often involved just accentuated the truly Americanness of the whole affair—bigger, better, louder, more obnoxious and utterly unforgettable.  The explosives were illegal, but coupled with the water venue and the ruralness of the locale it was just accepted practice—de rigueur with a small town knowing shrug.

We now live within earshot of the Muckleshoot Reservation, and their enthusiastic nightly ignitings of their various products began in earnest back in early June.  Mavis (our dog) likes to growl at the bigger booms as she works on her 8th nap of the day, and I’ve grown accustomed to their rumpling pop-pop-pops as I drift off to sleep with our windows open.  Now I mostly just want them to go away (the fireworks).  I want to sleep and I don’t want my house burned down.  I don’t want to add to the now, ever-present late summer forest fire haze that engulfs the Puget Sound—whether from California or Canada or Eastern Washington, it seems to be something that we’ve come to expect every year.  The oohs and aahs seem like stale bread now—the last truly smile-inducing episode was when we’d wake the kids up when they were little and lift them up to the upstairs window to watch the show over in Kent or Federal Way—their eyes big as I stared at them and saw the colors’ movements reflected in their corneas as they filled with wonder.

The days of picking up duds that accidentally go off later in your hand as you ride your banana-seat bike, numbing your fingers for days while you’re too scared to tell your parents of your stupidity and are just thankful that they’re not calling you Four-finger Freddy or The Claw, are long gone; or watching your older neighbor Mark light capfuls of gasoline on fire on July 7th—when all the last of the ladyfingers have been exhausted but the need for smoke and fire has not—in his garage right before he catches the gas can ablaze and you run pell mell for cover as he beats the can with an oily rag before his house goes up in flames…

So I hope you were safe yesterday…that your house is still standing and that you’ve still got both eyes and all twenty digits.  We live in a great country that’s worth celebrating with all its difficulties and differences—its diversity and disillusionment.  Complain as we might, there’s nowhere better on Earth…not even close.  Happy Independence Day!