Mom and Dad made a good pair on July 4As frightened as we were of prairie fires back on the farm, we never went a single Fourth of July without a pile of firecrackers, sparklers and sky rockets. As a young boy, I didn’t pay much attention when Dad and Uncle Frank and a bunch of the neighbors raced off to fight a prairie fire.
By: Terry Woster, The Daily Republic
As frightened as we were of prairie fires back on the farm, we never went a single Fourth of July without a pile of firecrackers, sparklers and sky rockets.
As a young boy, I didn’t pay much attention when Dad and Uncle Frank and a bunch of the neighbors raced off to fight a prairie fire. As I grew up and saw a few wildfires, first as a kid running gunny sacks and buckets of water around and then as one of the people actually close to the fire line, I came to appreciate the terrible destruction an uncontrolled fire on the plains could cause.
My dad always knew that, I guess, but for some reason, even in the driest of summers, he let us buy firecrackers. And, in the same way that he thought he had to walk out of our house in Chamberlain at midnight on New Year’s Eve and fire a shot from his .12 gauge, he simply had to set off half a dozen sky rockets just before we went to bed on the Fourth of July.
He was more than careful about it, if you can even be careful when you are about to send a wooden stick trailing a comet of sparks off over the dry grass south of the lane. He would light the fuse with a kitchen match, step back three or four paces (not nearly far enough to satisfy my mother, who barked at him to get away from there before the thing exploded) and watch as the rocket whizzed into the sky. We’d all trace its fiery arc as it sped away from the yard, and Dad would wait long minutes after it had disappeared, looking, I suppose, for some sign that this, finally, was the one that set the place on fire. When the darkness was unbroken again, he’d load another rocket and fire another shot.
These were real rockets, not the miniature things called pop-bottle sky rockets. The ones Dad sent into the sky were most of 3 feet long, with a fairly substantial warhead and a thick fuse trailing out the bottom. He used a length of old water pipe as a stand, sinking it at a slight angle into the ground so the rocket rested with its fuse just above the top of the pipe. It seemed like a safe enough arrangement to me, but I was a good distance away on the back step, so I didn’t really have a good view in the dark.
My mom could see well enough, I guess, because she warned Dad before each launch that the pipe probably would explode in his face. There was more than a little of the devil in my father, because when Mom got to repeating her warnings about exploding water pipes, he took to lingering just a little longer after lighting the fuse and staying just a half-step closer to the launch pad.
Somehow, they made it work, one half of the union strutting nonchalantly while the fuse sputtered and the other half predicting explosions, raging fires, plagues and locusts. My mom did watch the flight of each rocket as closely as my dad did, and he did manage to step quite a ways from the action while giving the appearance that he was in the danger zone.
The odd thing was, when Dad caught one of us being careless with a Zebra or Gorilla or Black Cat or one of the other colorfully named firecrackers of the day, he’d scold the daylights out of us. He’d make us stop the action, no matter how many of us were together, and he’d run down a list of safety rules and pile on us a truckload of examples of things that could go wrong if kids weren’t bright enough to handle their firecrackers with absolute, delicate care.
My mom would have been proud of the way he laid out potential calamities, but as best I can remember, she never heard him give us the riot act. That was probably a good thing. With him playing Debbie Downer, she’d have had to have been the daredevil.
Terry Woster’s columns are published Saturdays and Wednesdays in The Daily Republic.