Love of rockets, artillery shells starts early

Friday, July 2, 2004

Note -- The following column MAY contain references to illegal activities in the past involving fireworks. If you are a member of law enforcement, please feel free to stop reading now. Thank you for your consideration.

Like hair color and eye color, the love of fireworks must be hereditary. In my family, it comes from their father. (As opposed to the mother's side of the family, which determines something even more important: baldness).

I like fireworks in moderation. I like those little firecrackers, which come in packages of 13,000, for about 5 minutes and I have become deaf. I like smoke bombs until the wind changes direction and I smell like I've been in a bar for the past three hours. And I like snakes unless I've used three books of matches trying to get one to "slither" out. On the other hand, my husband plans any trips in June and July around potential fireworks stands. Knowing we'll stop at any place with a picture of a firecracker, I set spending limits before leaving the vehicle. (This usually limits the purchase to about four, even with the free items of buy-5-and-get-one-free promotions.)

Any debate about where the fireworks gene in my family came from can be settled easily: Only one of us worked at a fireworks stand (and had a picture published in the Gazette of that job) and it wasn't me.

Naturally, my 6-year-old son looks like he will travel down a similar path.

If he sees an ad insert in the paper for fireworks, he will scan the ad for hours. If he hears a commercial on the radio, he can recite it back, word-for-word, waiting for his blood pressure to return to normal. If he sees a fireworks stand open for business, he wants to stop, regardless if has been to one the past three nights. The sounds from the backseat during a ride on B Street in McCook currently fluctuates between "oohs" as we near a stand to "ahhs" when we pass the stand without stopping.

My sanity is on the verge of snapping because I have heard "Can we go to the fireworks stand today" approximately every six minutes. I have threatened my son with time-outs if he utters those words to me again. At his current rate, he'll be able to leave his room Aug. 7 at 3:20 p.m.

I do have some sympathy for him because the Fourth of July is a confusing time for a child, as is Halloween. All year long, we instruct out children not to take candy from strangers, but then dress them up in strange costumes, shove them out the door and tell them to go door-to-door in search of candy. Similarly, we tell our children all year long not to play with fire or matches. Yet, we don't understand when the kids shy away from holding a flame-shooting Sparkler or sneak away with a box of firecracker-propelled army tanks.

Ironically, I've known where to find my 6-year-old for the past two weeks: sitting outside my office, where the fireworks are stored. The closet in my home office is suddenly the most popular spot in the house, taking away the title once a year from the kitchen pantry. For the two weeks leading up to July 4th, I'll find a kitchen stool sitting outside my office door, obviously used in the crime to reach the lock's key. Or a butter knife lays discarded by the wall, used as a replacement for the recently lost key. Fortunately, the chairs and the utensils will return to the kitchen soon for another 11 months.

My son also receives a mixed message about fireworks, especially when we're traveling.

Fireworks stands obliterate a driver's view as they cross the border into a more liberal fireworks' state. Don't tell me that people in northwest Missouri along Interstate-29 just have a fondness for fireworks and can support six warehouse-sized stands by themselves. If so, why do they line the interstate between Omaha and Kansas City with flags promoting their businesses?

True, they are welcoming everyone to the "Show Me" state -- "Show me your money and I'll show you my fireworks."

My family will be shooting off fireworks every night (and sometimes during the day) through July 4th and probably beyond. And I'll be picking up remnants from rockets and artillery shells through July 4th, and probably beyond.

Ronda Graff will spend July 4th comforting her few children who don't YET like fireworks and keeping the matches away from those who do.

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