Family Ties

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 3, 1999

MARY ANN FITSMORRIS / L’Observateur / July 3, 1999

The Fourth of July. For a boy, a holiday ranking up there with Christmas.Every time we pass those enormous fireworks tents on the highway, my son asks the same question he has asked since he could speak. “Can we goin there?” I answer with the same answer I have always used, as I delay the inevitable. “Maybe.” Each year my son approaches the Fourth of July with renewed hope that this is the year his luck will change, and he can drive home from one of those tents with the gunpowder equivalent of an unlit bomb in the trunk; enough to blow a hole in my husband’s wallet, if nothing else.

It’s the nothing else that bothers me, so he has been forced to just look forlornly at those open warehouses of firepower, with the gigantic red letter signs with Crazy, or Wild as the adjective before the name of the owner. I keep waiting to see Stupid in red letters, because I could justsay, “See, they’re absolutely right; we don’t need to go in there.”Since that hasn’t happened, each explosive holiday includes the same format. Instead of the fireworks tents, I opt to go to one of those storeson which the entire economy of China rests; the land of unidentifiable plastic arcade prizes. There is a small section of weenie fireworks forkids with moms like me. My children fill a bag of smoke bombs, littleboxes of poppers and the ultra-humiliating “champagne” pulls that pop and release a few paper streamers.

My daughter watches as my son lights his little smoke bombs, we all have fun stepping on the poppers and the “champagne” pulls are released and dropped immediately. The entire process takes two minutes.We then turn our attention to the neighbor child who is kind enough to put on a pyrotechnic extravaganza, which my son watches with a mixture of resignation, envy and awe. The next day we awaken to a stale fireworkshaze, and my son goes to his friend’s house to inspect the blown up cartridges and to hear details of how cool it is to actually handle firepower.

He returns gushing tales of match-lighting machismo and reels off the inventory of the show, based on the charred garbage. I half listen to this,using most of my brain to calculate mentally how much money they blew in those few minutes of fireworks fun.

I then turn the children’s attention to the mess in front of us; the evidence of our heady two minutes of wild and crazy popping. There arealmost no burned smoke bombs; the dog considers them a delicacy. Evenwithout the smoke bombs, it was still too much of a job to clean it up.

Piles of paper streamers and popped poppers are great Fourth of July decorations, they suggest.

For days after this my son hears from his friends, most of whom have had real fireworks. But it is his cousins who really show some creativity withfirecrackers. They take after their father, my brother, who never met afirecracker he didn’t like.

This year I have decided to break with this tradition and actually take the kids into one of those big tents. They are not little anymore, so therehad to be something in all those fireworks they can step up to without going to cruise missiles.

Once inside the tent I was delighted with what I saw. I called my son overto a table and announced the good news. “You’ve grown out of those littleweenie sparklers. You’re now old enough to use these!” I teased, showinghim a sparkler as tall as he was. My daughter rather liked the idea, but hedragged me off to the heavy artillery.

He gawked as we inspected the entire array of firepower. The clerklaughed as he fantasized about making contraptions of certain fireworks to increase the explosion. Years of deprivation have taken their toll; hewas delirious. Despite his enthusiasm, we left with more and betterweenie stuff.

My husband returned to the tent to buy seriously. He took the children,used his expertise and spent a whole bunch of money.

It’ll still take two minutes.

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