In these days of miracle and wonder, as Paul Simon said, patriotism can be a risky subject, with about as many opinions and definitions as these hills have ticks and chiggers. So I’m not going there.
Besides, when I was a young person – a very long time ago – we didn’t really associate things like Independence Day with anything except the availability of fireworks.
And likely as not, since we lived in or somewhere near tiny little towns with not much to do and no budget for fireworks displays — not to mention that in those days the Civil War was still not quite a hundred years distant, and had been fought by family members – we were as likely as not to find some way to shoot them at one another.
It got so heated at times that we could have lined up all those incidents and encounters end to end and made a movie of it,and called it the firecracker wars.
Now I know you think this old lady must be exaggerating, prone as we girls must have been to ladyfingers and the like when it came to firecrackers. Well you’d be wrong, honey chile.
We had M-80s back then. And cherry bombs.
You may not be familiar with them. Those little red jawbreakers with a thick green fuse out the top for the cherry stem. Ah yes.
That was the ordinance that took out Pruny’s ear one unfortunate night when we were riding around in the back of a pickup truck terrorizing dogs and children, and it got too dark to see.
Streetlights in Butterfield were few, and those we had were just single bulbs with a shade. Pruney, one of the big boys, had the cherry bombs and was lighting them off his cigarette and tossing them at likely targets.
In the increasing dark, though, he lit one at the middle of the fuse instead of the end, and when he cocked back his arm to throw, the cherry bomb went off right beside his ear. Almost took off his thumb.
He dropped like a rock, cried like a 10-year-old, and never heard a thing out of that ear from then on.
You’d think that would have taught us something. But really, not much happened in Butterfield, so we were left to our own devices.
I was good at that game, living as I did in the town’s former hotel, which closed its doors in the 40s and became the repository for everything anybody in the family didn’t want and couldn’t quite get rid of.
There was a dining room table upstairs that seated 12 and a chiffarobe full of century old books. Downstairs, along with enough old clothes to outfit half the county, were spare wood stoves and featherbeds, a world war II metal detector, a piano, and, well, you see how it was.
So when the big boys started a battle in the lot behind the hotel, I had to take matters into my own hands. I had firecrackers, but I needed a real weapon.
I quickly ran to my upstairs of infinite pursuits and then to the back porch of endless possibilities and found the perfect thing – a piece of copper tubing just big enough around to stuff in a firecracker and leave the fuse hanging out.
I bent it into an ell shape and stuffed a cork in the bottom end to prevent backfires, and gathered a handful of small pebbles. But the boys moved down the street after I pinged one with a rock.
That, no matter the outcome, was a fine fourth of July.
I wish I could say it ended there. But we kept on right up into high school, by which time my parents had caved and bought the longed for chemistry set, and I learned how to make fuses.
It almost ended when I inadvertently blew up the driveway just as my parents were driving into it. They were not amused.
That’s why I never told them about the terrorist attack on a certain County jail, to which I was an accessory.
We were bored, ok, and it was mid-summer and nothing to do, and some of us had graduated and were leaving. We had to think of an appropriate send off. We had already repainted the water tower.
Then one who shall remain nameless challenged me to make a long fuse – six feet at least. So I got out my little lab, soaked a cotton string with potassium nitrate and dried it in the sun.
My anonymous co-conspirator had noticed that the window was open on the women’s side of the jail, which had no occupants.
According to witnesses, he tied the fuse to a double pack of firecrackers, and in the dark of night, lit the string and tossed the whole thing in the window. The jailor, who had been asleep, looked for the culprit for a long time.
I’m only telling now because I’m pretty sure we’ve outlived him.
Well, I guess I’ve confessed enough about those ornery but innocent days. And I’m grateful beyond words for living in a country where we could do those things with our neighbors in innocent fun, with fireworks, instead of firearms.
I hope you’ve enjoyed your Independence Day celebrations, however they were celebrated. And if you managed to have too much fun, well, I just hope you got away with it.