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Burning money

The Independence Day holiday is upon us, a day when we will mark the 246th birthday of our great nation with festivities, feasts, and fireworks. Despite rampant rumors, I am not old enough to remember the very first Fourth.

Fireworks have always been a large part of Fourth of July celebrations. Nothing is more patriotic; nothing highlights the American “can-do” spirit better than literally setting a pile of money on fire. My grasp of modern finance is vague at best, but from what I’ve read, it seems that fireworks might be a better investment than some of those mystifying “cryptocurrencies.”

There was nothing cryptic about the Fourth of July and fireworks when I was a kid. We all wanted all of the fireworks and we wanted them now.

Along about mid-June, the mailman would bring a catalogue filled with a vast array of consumer grade fireworks. My seven siblings and I studied the catalogue intently, as if it were the Rosetta Stone of pyrotechnics.

I recall how my sister Di, always the efficient one, created a spreadsheet on lined notebook paper detailing what fireworks she planned to buy and how much each cost. She was pretty organized for an 8-year-old.

Since none of us kids had off-farm jobs, we had to rely on the allowances that our parents gave us, a sum that was probably along the lines of a dollar per month. Money went further back then, but still, creating a budget to buy a decent quantity of fireworks involved saving your allowance for a long time. And who’s thinking about fireworks in the dead of winter when you’re in the grocery store and a candy bar is gazing at you alluringly and whispering, “Buy me! I only cost a dime! C’mon, big spender!”

One way I earned extra cash was by scooping the cow manure out of the gutters in our dairy barn. Dad promised me a nickel a day for this task, although he often insisted that I should be paying him due to the education that I was receiving from gutter duty. Dad was just kidding. I think.

The day would finally come when our parents would trundle us all into the station wagon and drive us to the nearest roadside fireworks stand. The selection of pyro-centric offerings boggled the mind. I was like a kid in a candy store. I was also regretting how my past candy purchases had negatively affected my fireworks budget.

When were small we were only allowed to buy kid-safe fireworks such as snakes or smoke balls or sparklers. As we grew older we were allowed to purchase more exciting items, including skyrockets and firecrackers. Shelling out the dough for these things taught me the true meaning of the term “burn rate.”

When I was finally allowed to buy real firecrackers, I soon learned that they were like miniature sticks of dynamite. They could be used to excavate nifty craters in the mud or blow a hole in a red ant mound.

My buddy Steve introduced me to a concept he called “aerial applesauce.” I will only say that it involved carving a hole in an apple that was still hanging on the tree. While I’m certain that some applesauce was thus created, we never recovered enough of it to render a judgment regarding its quality.

As much fun as our roadside stand fireworks may have been, they paled in comparison to a municipal fireworks display.

Your first municipal fireworks show is an unforgettable experience. Red and blue and silver flowers suddenly bloom overhead, covering the entire sky. Twinkling showers of sparks rain down like a fiery, luminescent waterfall. The unexpected “BOOM!” of the flash-bang mortar startles you and is loud enough to be felt in your toenails.

Like most kids, my secret hope was to be able to duplicate the “wow” factor of a municipal fireworks show. Sadly, my parents wouldn’t even let me fill out an application for a Federal explosives permit from the ATF.

In the fullness of time, I grew up and got married. My wife and I soon had two small sons of our own.

Our boys were still quite young when we first purchased some kid-safe fireworks for them. Under close maternal supervision, the boys and I lit snakes and smoke balls. They were fascinated by the fizzing and sputtering of the smoke balls. They wondered how those long, curly snakes could grow from those tiny black pellets.

“It’s one of those holiday mysteries,” I replied. “We don’t ask the Easter Bunny where he gets his eggs. Our job is to simply enjoy them.”

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