This week, the Source office is split over whether to Boot or Slipper fireworks. Most of the office is against fireworks and, yes, I hear and understand and know their arguments that fireworks can be dangerous, especially in a tinderbox dry environment where even the tiniest spark can jumpstart a massive and quick fire. And, yes, as an allegedly responsible adult, I know which side I should take. However, the words, "Please be careful this Fourth of July" do not feel earnest (or really, American!) to me, when what I want to say is, "Blow stuff up! Have fun!"
Some of my best memories of childhood summers involve the Fourth of July—and fireworks. Most of my adolescent summers were spent in a small Wisconsin town, at our family's lakehouse. As kids, for each Fourth of July we would decorate our bicycles in red, white and blue streamers and, as we grew older, build increasingly elaborate floats with dioramas (like one that included a full-sized cow, with a surgical glove for an udder that actually could be milked!). As prizes for best costumes (which we often won, thank you very much), the town gave out bags of fireworks—which, in our teenage years, we would instantly run back to our house to use to blow up our floats (including, using the cow as target practice for bottle rockets). It was innocent, Tom Sawyer gee-shucks fun.
Those muggy Midwest evenings were also consumed with fireworks. One of our neighbors had a massive stash he collected over the previous months, and when the sky would finally darken, he would gather all the neighbors at the water's edge and light up the inky sky with red pincushions, screaming green streamers and raining blue sparks. We would watch from our dock, and could hear "ooohhhs" and "aaahhhs" from other families along the lake shore, invisible in the darkness but sharing the fireworks display. It was loud and communal and beautiful, and oh so very American, in the most true celebration of that word, as a remembrance for the bold and true George Washington and Francis Scott Key hang-together sort of patriotism. Oh, yes, most definitively we could see by the rocket's red glare.
Yes, I know the dangers of fireworks. Trust me, first-hand (although I still have all ten fingers), I get it. When I was 18, my buddies and I attended a local fireworks show in Madison, Wisc., where I grew up. We had just settled onto our blanket at the bottom of a hill when, the first round of displays went off—a basic red pincushion. A blink of the eye later, there was a muffled explosion. Then nothing. Although there was no formal announcement, the show was canceled. The next day I learned in the newspaper that for years two brothers had handled the show. It seems that a lit explosive had dropped down one of the brother's sleeves. He blew up.
And, I know that in 2013, according to the Oregon State Fire Marshal, fireworks were responsible for 197 fires in Oregon, and 31 injuries, and over the past five years, these fires have resulted in more than $4.4 million is property loss.
Reached for comment, Susie Maniscalco, Deputy Fire Marshal, explained, "In light of recent Two Bulls fire, fire safety is so important. We urge citizens to take advantage of the public display, keep an eye on your children and practice safety as a family."
She went on to point out, "We don't have the staffing to provide extra personnel on the Fourth of July, that's why it's hard to regulate the use, especially of illegal fireworks that come from out of state."
But oh, I love the Fourth of July. No, fireworks should not be outlawed. But, if you are a yahoo about fireworks like me, just don't be a dumbass about it.
(Editor Phil Busse)