Roman Candle Mayhem

Who doesn’t love the 4th of July, besides possibly the 5th of July. Dear patient reader, you may persist by placing quotations around your effervescent question of, “Why would the 3rd of July be ok with the 4th of July?” Then you may even go as far as asking, “Could you stop referring to our collective question as ‘effervescent’, you pompous ass?”

I can tell you that the 3rd of July is like a good little helper to the big 4. 3 is a celebration enabler. 3 gets the overflow of people buying ice and Shasta, and Schlitz. On the 3rd, the work week has been released, calls are not returned and people begin traveling to cabins, lakes or pretending to travel instead of answering their phones. The 4th is about America. I’m such a patriot, don’t even think of contacting me on the day before the 4th.

The 5th, on the other hand, is the day that a lot of people have to go back to work and act like they didn’t just eat two hamburgers and four hotdogs the day before. Unless the 5th lands on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday it’s in an inconsolable mood.

To put an interesting twist on the 4th versus the 5th, this year the 5th of June has played a trick on the big 4th of July in the Spafford household. Because of the occurrences on the 5th of June, Lila Spafford, as we refer to the oldest of the Spafford children, turned against the 4th of July – to the smug delight of the 5th of July. If two dates of the calendar 31 days apart could high-five, the 5th of July would try to do so – with its almost non-existent arms aimed at the 5th of June’s almost non-existent arms. But it can’t, so they won’t.

Let’s begin the story in paragraph 5 by blaming everything on Uncle Bill. That feels good and seems right. While visiting my parents and, coincidentally, Lila’s grandparents, I took a walk down the road to the farm homestead where my mom grew up. This is currently owned and operated by my two aunts and their husbands and they spend time there on weekends. When I say operated, I don’t mean that it’s a bed and breakfast. I mean that it’s a fixing operation for Bill. There’s always work to be done there. After showing me the latest painting in the upstairs hallway Bill invited me into his basement laboratory.

My aunt’s husband Bill has a brother who owns some professional fireworks stores. Consequently, Bill often has an arsenal of fireworks. His 4th of July displays rival the small town fireworks in a 20 mile radius. When we weaved down into the fireworks lair, there actually was more lair than fireworks. I assumed a new summer shipment was expected any day from the Orient, or as we spoke, multiple dusty crates were being delivered to his house outside of innocent Appleton, WI via horse and wagon by a man only known as Cracker – short for Fire Cracker, not the white guy Cracker.

That day Bill offered up what looked like an explosive case of fireworks and then piled on four long and tall Roman candles. My first thought was how could anyone have read in Rome if these were the kinds of candles they had to read by. Reading by Roman candle light could not have been relaxing. There was absolutely no charge for this little mountain of explosives. That was the relative discount. But, it could have also been, like any good dealer, an attempt to get me hooked on the big stuff. I would not be getting any gateway explosives like witch whistles or sparklers. Bill only dealt in the hard stuff.

When I walked in the door at my parents’ house, my son Hoyt was in awe of the big box containing multiple explosions and a fierce Chinese tiger decorated by teeth in the foreground with fireworks in the background. Darkness could not come fast enough for that boy.

My parents’ lawn is a perfect launch pad. The case of fireworks went off with one match and the twelve pack of fun lasted for over 5 minutes. It was a success. The fireworks fans wanted more and what kind of dad would I be to hold out. I couldn’t remember the last time – if ever – that I lit Roman candles. I didn’t readily find instructions on the side of the candles and it was getting darker. I thought I would just try one of them. This is where my problems began. I think I confused the Roman candle with the bottle rocket.

The bottle rocket normally has a wire or thin wood rod coming out of it that can be placed in a – you guessed it – bottle. These candles of Roman origin had an indented bottom and I thought it looked like it could be launched. In hindsight or any kind of sight, this was a failed brain synopsis moment. I placed a couple thin steel rods in the ground. On one of the rods I placed my test candle and tilted it away from the house.

Just a few short minutes earlier I was talking to my wife – I’ll refer to her as Cynthia – about the importance of safety. Just as I struck the match for the Roman candle I had a fleeting moment where my safety words whizzed past some part of my brain like a fast fuse. The safety words were fuzzy and indifferent. The light of the match illuminated the somewhat unstable candle seeming to drip off the metal stand. In a moment after lighting and just before stepping back, I saw words at bottom under something called “INSTRUCTIONS”. All I saw was, “….bury tube one foot in ground…” Oh, oh. Fuse too close. Must get back. A second later, as the fuse hit the candle there was an explosion and the candle flew off my ill-conceived launching rod. It hit the ground and launched what appeared to be a round of mortar fire. This caused the Roman candle to spin around.

Now the mortar was launching towards all the vehicles parked in front of the garage. My dad had been around the side of the garage and was now pinned down as tracers flew past him as he peeked out from the corner. Cynthia was on the front porch with the kids. She broke into laughter, which made me believe that, 19 years earlier, I had taken a devil bride. I said to get the kids in the house as I had no way of knowing if the candle would continue to spin towards the house.

My brother, who goes by Justin, was standing near the cars in front of the garage. He was like a deer caught in Roman candle lights. He was frozen as his eyes and feet tried to plan an escape, but his brain wouldn’t let him move. Candle mortar was coming in randomly at every point around him. Then, one small Roman candle firework, on an albeit wobbly course, was nonetheless on course for my brother. He made an attempt to jig back and forth. When he zigged, the tracer zagged and in what seemed like a lifetime, but lasted only a couple of seconds, the firework won the game of chicken and squarely hit my brother in the forehead.

Now look what I’ve done. I just officially shot fireworks into my brother’s forehead. This is almost the exact opposite of safety with fireworks. One more blast of flares went over the cars and garage and I could hear my 83-year-old dad yell from around the corner,

“What the hell!”

Then it was over. Just as quickly as it had started, the attack was over – giving a new meaning to friendly fire. Justin was ok, just stunned. The small plastic wad that was fueled by gun powder didn’t even leave a mark. Fortunately, it didn’t put his eye out. I would never have forgiven myself had he become a patch-eyed pirate because of me. Had that happened I would have done the right thing and bought him a parrot.

Not to keep you from your day dear reader, but the final oddity occurred as I bent over in the moonlit dark to pull up the steel rods I had stuck in the ground. As I bent down to grab one of the rods, I felt a sharp pain in the back of my mouth where the throat meets the chewing hole. I jumped back. I had leaned in, mouth half-open, and stuck the other rod, unannounced, into the back of my throat. Now, the back of my mouth was bleeding. This was turning into the worst 5th of June on record.

Upon going in the house I found that Hoyt and Iris were nonplussed by the whole ordeal. They are little and probably just assume that fireworks are sometimes shot at the people. Lila, on the other hand, swore off fireworks and she reported that this 4th of July she would not be attending any fireworks.

This is how the 5th of July became proud of the 5th of June, by turning just one child off from the 4th of July – even if it turns out to be for the short-term. The 4th of July will not be kept down – even if it’s by the independence of one child saying no to the likes of Uncle Bill’s arsenal. I’m sure, kind reader, that you can see that this whole thing was Bill’s fault. Had he not just assumed that a 48-year-old man can read instructions none of this would have happened and I would not have become the coolest guy around by piercing the back of my throat.

Sadly yours,

Jason Spafford

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