Friday, July 04, 2008

Jumping Jack Flash

If just isn't the Fourth without fireworks or a post about them.

JB and I had more than our fair share of experience with fireworks growing up. Our father used to regale us with tales of the various explosives that he and his siblings put to use on their farm in Northern Wisconsin. They had access to just about anything you could imagine up to and including certain pieces of US Army ordinance. These stories sparked an interest in fireworks that we itched to ignite.

However, since fireworks were strictly banned in Minnesota during our childhood years, we could only wistfully dream of what it might be like to get our hands on any and had to be content to amuse ourselves instead with rolls of caps.

Yeah, right. We quickly learned that although fireworks were illegal in Minnesota, they were not restricted in certain neighboring states. God bless federalism.

Every year, we would find a connection who was making a trip to one of the Dakotas and gather up every nickel and dime we could squeeze together for our fix. Our wish list usually included a variety of items: Black Cats, bottle rockets (whistling and regular), Saturn missile batteries, Roman candles, larger payload rockets, smoke bombs, etc.

One other thing we always got as well was Jumping Jacks. They didn't make much noise or explode, but their unpredictable movements and last second flame out made them a lot of fun (especially in water.)

Because they were not particularly loud, we often used them quite openly without fear of attracting much attention. One pre-July Fourth summer day, we were doing just that in the woods behind our house with our neighbor. The woods weren't particularly thick or deep, but they did provide a nice area for us to romp around in.

Our neighbor used to drag his leaves back into the woods every fall, so it was quite thick with them. It must have been a drier than usual summer. After tossing Jumping Jacks into the woods for some time, we suddenly noticed that the last gasp from one (or maybe more) of the 'works had ignited a blaze. Not a small one either.

We tried to stamp it out without success. It was spreading and spreading fast. We were out of the reach of hoses from our homes, so we sprinted off and returned with shovels. We cleared a fire line around the inferno and eventually threw enough dirt to extinguish it. But it was a close call. Too close. There was a decent sized area with blackened, smoldering remains.

In order to cover our tracks and avoid the wrath of our parents, we covered everything with dirt and then, when we were satisfied that no spark remained, we brought in more leaves to give no hint of what had just transpired. It was far from the perfect crime and I don't think we ever took the humble Jumping Jack for granted after that.

Have a happy (and fire-free) Fourth of July.

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