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WOSTER: His first Rodeo Finale

Terry Woster

One of my favorite Fourth of July stories was told several years ago by a friend who rocked his entire neighborhood with a particularly wicked product of the fireworks industry.

My friend has long held a good job in a central South Dakota community, and even he would agree he should have known better. He was just trying to celebrate Independence Day, he said.

Here's his story as I recall it. You may notice a few examples of sketchy thinking.

His first clue -- I thought as he told the story -- should have been that the product he purchased was named something like "Rodeo Finale,'' words that would suggest to anyone who has watched a post-rodeo fireworks display that the blasts contained in the product were more than a couple of Ladyfingers and a Roman candle.

The thing contained a dozen or so "salutes,'' and while there were certain restrictions against shooting fireworks in the neighborhoods of my friend's home community, he figured he'd fire the thing up right out in the middle of the street late on the evening of the Fourth. He placed the product, lit the fuse and moved away quickly, just as the instructions said.

What happened next? Well, in Whoville they say -- wait, that's a different tale. What happened next was the first "salute'' came out and lit up the night sky with a flash like the first atomic test explosion at the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in New Mexico. The sound accompanying the flash of light was, my friend said, like World War III had erupted out in front of his house with all the howitzers ever created firing in unison.

I'm working from an old memory of a casual conversation here, but I believe my friend said his first thought as his vision cleared and his hearing returned was something like, "Eleven salutes to go.''

You know how you hate it when you light a firecracker or rocket or something and it turns out to be a dud? My friend was praying like crazy for a dud. He considered taking his handy bucket of water and dousing the Rodeo Finale, but he said he wasn't sure he wouldn't be swept away in the next salute as he approached.

He cringed and counted the salutes.

Speaking of duds, when I was younger and fascinated with firecrackers as part of the July Fourth celebration, my mother was dead-set against on approaching a dud until a reasonable time had passed. My mother was anxious anything having to do with fireworks, but she was particularly anxious about duds. Anyone who has shot firecrackers knows a dud is exactly what the name says. It's a firecracker that, when lit, burns through the fuse and then just lies there. Nearly always, that means it won't explode. I say nearly, because once in awhile, just often enough to drive my mother crazy, the firecracker would blow up well after it should have been dead and gone. She always cautioned us to wait a while, and her idea of a reasonable amount of time was three or four days.

Actually, the smartest thing would have been to stay away from the dud, give it up as a lost cause and go about the business of firing off the rest of the pack. We were raised on a farm, though, and we grew up knowing better than to waste things. Bent nails, unmatched nuts and washers and bolts, broken drill bits, a stray length of angle iron, a scrap two-by-four -- it didn't matter. A person didn't waste things, not even a dud firecracker.

Besides, approaching what could still be a live explosive was a deliciously dangerous thing to do for a 10-year-old, especially when his older cousin did it so nonchalantly. It's difficult to describe the juvenile mindset that analyzes a situation like that and decides it makes more sense to risk losing a finger than to look like a coward, but if you've ever been 10 years old and a boy, I don't have to explain it.

On the other hand, I can't quite explain the thought process of the guy with the rodeo salutes.