Spaced City

Fireworks: A Cautionary Tale

Enjoy the fireworks this Fourth of July. Just let someone else shoot them.
Enjoy the fireworks this Fourth of July. Just let someone else shoot them. Photo by Kennon Evett
I tried to hide it. As I scurried back into my house, my right hand behind my back, I did my best to sneak off to my room, but then I heard her voice. "Jeff, come in here." It was my mom. Some friends of the family had stopped by on this particular July 4 evening. "Come say hi," she told me and I nervously walked into the living room.

It was then she realized I was hiding something, in this case a pair of badly blistered and bloody fingers from a firecracker that went off in my hand. At least she couldn't see the ringing in my ears.

From a relatively young age, I got fireworks on the Fourth of July and for New Year's. Growing up less than a mile outside the Houston city limits had some advantages. We did stupid things like blow up mail boxes, have roman candle fights and shoot bottle rockets down the street at unsuspecting friends just trying to ride a damn bike. We once lit a small bonfire on our driveway and threw all manner of stuff into it. Things would rocket out of the fire and try to kill us. We were thrilled. We even built a makeshift cannon out of some discarded PVC pipe we found in a dumpster. So clever.

Like my friends, I might occasionally light and throw something. Fuses were mostly predictable and if you held it long enough, you could see it go off in the air, a particular delight to a 12-year-old with a penchant for pyromania. Sure, I once discovered the hairs on the side of my head smoldering thanks to a wayward spark (my friend managed to tamp it out before it did any real damage), but no major injuries.

As I looked down at the big, black blisters on my thumb and index finger, I fully expected the big lecture from my mother. She was the overprotective sort already and strictly forbade me from even thinking about tossing a firecracker after it was lit. It's a miracle she let me handle them at all.

And I'll be honest, it hurt like hell. My fingers were throbbing and they looked pretty gross. Granted, it could have been worse. I was holding a very normal Black Cat, not some M-80 that might leave me with a bloody stump instead of a finger. How was I supposed to know this one had a defective and extremely fast fuse? Like, bssp and BOOM.

Fortunately, my mom recognized the pain I was feeling was likely worse than anything she could inflict. Plus, maybe having guests over tempered her reaction. Whatever the case, she just looked at me and said, "Are you ever going to do that again?" Clearly, the answer was yes. I was 12 and not that bright. But, I shook my head and ambled off to my room holding my hand and some ice in a bag for the pain.

Now, as a semi-mature adult, I have no desire to possess, let alone throw lit fireworks. Living inside the city limits, it's outlawed anyway, though you would never know considering the display covering my entire neighborhood sky twice a year. Who needs a city celebration when you can just look out the window of your house and hope nothing lands on your roof?

This is especially true remembering that time as a teenager I had to lay in an 18-inch crawl space in the attic and patch a hole in the roof caused by a stray bottle rocket. Fun times.

I also think about kids who still do such ridiculous things, frequently hurting themselves and others, even causing fires, nevermind scaring off poor pets traumatized by the rapid fire explosions. They must think it's World War III outside.

Honestly, it doesn't really seem worth it. I barely remember any of the cool explosions and magical lighting displays my friends and I would attempt to put on for each other. But I sure as hell remember those nasty blisters.

So, be smart and leave the fireworks to the professionals this year. The fingers you save might just be your own.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke