When I was a kid growing up in Pennsylvania, there was a particular summer when everyone
had fireworks. Fireworks, like almost anything else fun, were illegal in PA. As I recall we got the fireworks from a shady man that lived in a nearby neighborhood. It's hard to believe that a guy would risk trouble with the law to sell illegal fireworks out of his garage to 13 year olds, but that's how we got them. Since we were 13, we didn't have enough money to buy the big shit, so our concerns were to amass the largest stockpile of Thunderbomb firecrackers and Moon Traveler bottle rockets possible. Some swore by the Black Cat firecracker, but our neighborhood was staunchly in favor of the reliable Thunderbomb 16 pack. For many boys, this was the first lesson in that the best price does not always supply the best value as our streets were often littered by dud Black Cats purchased by rookies.
Normally it was event to have firecrackers. Great plans would be made on how to use them. Great caution used to unwrap each individual firecracker. To light off complete packs at once was an extravagance saved for the actual 4th of July. Prudent conservation was the key to getting through a whole summer vacation. The summer I am thinking of now was an exception, an anomaly really. Everyone in the neighborhood was stocked that summer, even those cheap ass Cameron kids that never sprung for the tools of summer. If you were a 10-14 year old boy in my neighborhood that summer, you tossed lit full packs of Thunderbombs at the feet of anyone at any time. We had become so callous about explosions, we were like a group of WWI vets at the Western Front. At the drop of a hat, any of us could rig timed fuses on multiple firecrackers. It was like being part of a bomb unit in Iraq, but with a lot more Schwinn bikes.
I realized it had gone too far when we were sitting in the Cameron's garage waiting for something to happen. Every few minutes of so a firecracker would go off in the garage with a satisfying echo ringing in our ears. The eldest Cameron brother Scott came into the garage in tow with Andy, one of the official "bad kids" in school and a definite Wild Card. Also bored and looking for something to do, they had resorted to seeing what the little kids were up to. This was when the unexpected happened and livened up the day considerably.
Scott should have known something was wrong when Rick, a longtime critic of Scott and his ineffectiveness in backyard sports, offered Scott one of those snack boxes of raisins. Do they still make those? Coming in some sort of multi unit snack pack (probably spelled "Snak-Pak"), these two inch by one inch boxes contained just enough raisins that no kid ever finished them in their brown bag lunch. To have one of those on hand, much less offer one to someone walking into an empty garage should have set off a warning light for Scott. It did not however...
"Hey Scott... Want some raisins?" Sure! Rick nonchalantly tossed the raisins across the garage to Scott. About three feet prior to reaching him the box exploded, just disappeared, as the trusty Thunderbomb went off with authority. I would call the look on Scott's face a very unique combination of terror, confusion, and shock. This was an aggressive move that was completely unprecedented in our neighborhood. A younger boy had never made a show of disrespect that blatant to an elder. It set off an instant chain of reactions. Rick ran off with Scott in pursuit while Andy, his juvenile delinquent Yoda, roared with laughter. This was predictable.
What was unpredictable was how Andy, after careful rumination, had decided this was an act of aggression that could not pass. All of us boys in the garage were as responsible as Rick as we had done nothing to prevent the aggression. It was as if I was Costa Rica, and now was going to be bombed by the United States because Mexico had lobbed a mortar across the Texas border. And just like Costa Rica, I was powerless to prevent the retribution to come...
That Summer it became necessary to have your head on a swivel. At any moment a firework could come sizzling towards your head. Leaving the house without a small cache of bottle rockets and firecrackers was more than reckless; it was foolhardy. At a certain point the older boys secured whistlers, a clear step up in our arms race. These offered much greater range and firepower. Even now I can recall being trapped in my garage with multiple whistlers whining in and exploding around me. The incredible thing about parenting in those days was the sheer amount of hands off and "don't look, don't tell" that was going on. No adult seemed to notice that their sons constantly had explosions going on around them, or even asked "Why did five fireworks just go off in the garage while my son was screaming in fear?".
Eventually the weather began to turn and our fireworks supplies went back to "emergency only". Some of us had some nice burns. All of us had some close calls. It might be that I am so far removed from kids now, but I don't hear any screams and explosions in my neighborhood. I don't see any kids leaping behind bushes with rockets dropping in all around them. I am sure this is a much safer environment, but I can't help but think it leaves these kids soft. Don't be surprised if you open up the Police Blotter section of my local paper and read "Local Man Suspected Of Terrorizing Area Children With Fireworks". I'll tell you now what I will tell the judge.
It's for their own good.