The booming business

Thursday, July 1, 2004

July 1, 2004

Dear Pat,

This is a good time of year for low-flying aircraft to avoid the Castor River watershed. DC has laid in her fireworks supply.

DC usually goes for the buy-one-get-one-free bundles that make you think you're getting lots of explosions. This year she couldn't wait for the fireworks stands to open in Cape Girardeau. She drove down the interstate to Boomland, where fireworks is a 365-day-a-year business that's open until midnight before the Fourth of July.

"Do any of these make a lot of noise?" she asked the salesman.

"Is that a good thing or a bad thing?" he asked.

DC surreptitiously checked his hands for missing fingers. She knows a fellow fireworks freak when she meets one.

Ordinarily DC likes big booms, but our beagle, Alvie, is frightened by thunder. Frightened doesn't describe his reaction. He shivers inconsolably. It's not a reaction we want to induce.

That's one reason DC came home from the fireworks store with romance novel titles like Golden Palace, Golden Angels, Grand Gazebo and a 10-pounder called Spring Wonder. She's also a girl. To me, Plum Tree and Green Apple Tree sound more like bath oils than July 4 ordnance.

In O Christmas Tree O Christmas Tree, she obtained a firework that fuses two of her favorite holidays in one blaze of glory.

DC's opening ceremony will be moving display of international friendship, a firework that includes the Chinese, English and American flags.

To be sure, she didn't come home without a few items of heavy artillery: A mortar slinger called Celestial Splender (sic) and Cape Canaveral, a small plastic rocket dwarfed by a bologna sausage-sized booster.

Ah, the wonders of gunpowder. The combination of sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter does have a fascination.

My Uncle David used to make his own gunpowder and rockets when he was a teenager. He stuffed a matchbox with gunpowder, notched a hole in one end and struck a match there. The matchbox flew down the stairwell. His little nephew was awed.

When he got older, David went into the Air Force.

When I was a boy at the beginning of the '60s, a barn-shaped restaurant here called the Barn offered two very rare items: Dr. Pepper soda and firecrackers. The fireworks stand was located on swampy land behind the restaurant. To reach it, you had to walk across wooden planks. Water moccasins were certain to be lurking beneath.

These many years later, my memory swears that buying firecrackers there actually was illegal. But maybe that's only the suspect remembrance of a man who as a boy walked across a swamp and braved poisonous snakes to buy his fireworks.

Bottle rockets finally have been outlawed in the civilized parts of Southeast Missouri, partly because one was the spark that burned down a house last year. The house happened to belong to a firefighter.

That hasn't stopped our neighbors from nightly trying to recreate the moment that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our National Anthem.

It's a good thing Alvie has beagle ears.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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