Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Obligatory Bang!

I've fearlessly engaged in bottle rocket wars. I've held lit roman candles as they sputtered and spewed. I've used gasoline to start campfires. But I won't play with firecrackers. I can't stand them because I fear them. I distrust their tiny fuses. I don't like their miniaturized explosions. And like many things in my life this fear can be traced back to my summer vacations in North Mississippi. Because my maniac cousins were into firecrackers in a major way.

I spent, from the age of 4 - 18, every 4th of July in Ripley, Mississippi visiting my grandmother and assorted aunts and uncles and cousins. If enough cousins were around it would be both fun and terrifying. It was fun to hang out with Alton Ray, Mark, Tony, and Lisa who were around my age, but you had to watch your back around the older cousins. They liked to tease and antagonize the younger kids and they took special aim at the only child from Middle Tennessee.

It was the usual stuff: they liked to call me names, dangle me over the side of a rowboat and threaten to drop me into a catfish infested pond, beat me up, and I'm sure many other things I've thankfully repressed. One method of antagonizing lives on in my memory every year coming to vivid life with the snap, crack, and pop of whole neighborhoods shooting firecrackers. My older cousins were firecracker obsessed.

They'd load up on them at a tent just outside of the First Monday flea market and spend the next few days with lighters ablaze firing them off on the gravel driveway, on the front porch, in the backyard, and even in the house if all of the adults were gone. These were rarely controlled demolitions. They always gave me the impression of chaos in action with their repeated attempts at lighting the temperamental fuses of the colorful tightly wound cheap firecrackers. They'd scramble away and then warily approach the firecracker if it didn't explode and try again.

This always left me wondering, "Why didn't they ever blow their hands off?" Because this was what was supposed to happen to kids who played with fireworks. My mother and the media were authorities on this subject. Every year you get the same reports of how firecrackers can injure you. You can get burned and mangled. You might lose a finger, a hand, or an eye and be disfigured for life. This wasn't going to happen to me since I wasn't allowed to play with any fireworks nor was I about to since I was even more scared of getting my butt burned by my switch toting mother than of the fireworks.

Obedience is a crime when you're a kid. I was nothing but a wuss to them. "He can't play with firecrackers! He's just a wussy. Hey, momma's boy, does she hold your hand in the bathroom." This; I could handle. I didn't mind my teenage cousins and their taunting too much. Back then; if you give me a Hot Wheels car, a comic book, and a Popsicle I was content. They really got my attention when they started sneaking up behind me and setting their firecrackers off. I did what any sane person would do. I'd leap up in the air scared out of my skin which would bring such laughter to my tormentors they'd end up crying which was convenient for them since they would then accuse me of setting off the firecrackers. If one was to do a film of my life now would be the time to cue up the Benny Hill chase music as my mother would come into the frame carrying a maple switch while I pleaded for the life of my bare legs while motoring around and around grandma's tiny house.

I have to hand it to them. My elder cousins were masters of this sort of psychological terror. This was bad for me, but still not the worst. The worst was when they just let their subconscious meanness come to the forefront. Then I became a firecracker target. I'd be sitting on the porch sipping an iced sweet tea watching the dump people ride by on their odd bicycles trying to make it through another hellishly hot Mississippi afternoon when I'd hear a sizzling sound slicing through the air headed straight toward me. Where there was one, there were more.

Lucky for me I had some factors on my side. My cousins aim was horrible. The firecrackers were also really cheap and a good third of them would be duds. Of the ones that weren't; most would pop before they got to me. I was also very speedy when frightened. But enough of them exploded either on me or close enough to inspire my cousins to send firecrackers launching my way every chance they got. They did it guilt free because once the first firecracker fusillade fell they always offered to give me some so we could have a proper war knowing damn well I wasn't allowed to touch them,

My cousins let me have it over this for years until I took part in their bottle rocket war when I was around 13. By then my mother must have decided I had been obedient enough and needed to cut loose. Which is what I did. I went crazy on my cousins decimating them with pinpoint bottle rocket precision; the woods behind grandma's house lit up with bursts of burning destruction. Once this happened all was forgiven. I never had to worry about the firecracker terror again. Not that I was about to get into firecrackers myself. There were too many miles of bad road there.

So have fun this 4th of July. And please; no sneaking up behind me with a firecracker.

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