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My Most Memorable 4th of July

I was never allowed to play with fireworks as a kid really. They were seen as dangerous, and my mother's family knew just how dangerous they were. They also knew I was a bit of a fire bug and didn't see any good from me having fire in my hands.


When her father was a young boy, he threw a cherry bomb at a little girl as a joke. When it went off, it was directly in front of her face and it blinded her for the rest of her life. Of everything he ever did, that was the one he regretted most. He never forgave himself for such a cruel act. He hadn't meant to blind her, but the fact that he had haunted him for the rest of his life.


When Mom was growing up, she was the middle child and the only girl. She and her two brothers used to light Bottle Rockets and aim them at one another. They would shoot out of the classic Coke bottles, screaming as they went almost louder than the pursuee would scream. Rarely did they make their mark, but having the flaming, sizzling sticks pursue them was enough to scare them into running for their life. When they finally popped, they would sting wherever they touched. One of my uncles still has a scar from one going off on the small of his back. The scorching, searing pain was hardly soothed by ice cubes.


Dad never told me stories of him as a kid with fireworks, but judging how alike we are, I can imagine he had some wild stories to remember. Bottle Rockets, Roman Candles and Sparklers weren't allowed in the house, and if ever we were camping where someone else had fireworks, we weren't to touch them or offer help of any kind. Our parents would chide us for even trying. Sparklers always looked like so much fun, but I wasn't allowed to wave them through the air like the other girls writing their names in brilliant, dazzling, glimmering shower of blues and reds.


Finally LaDonna and her husband invited Mom and me to light fireworks with them on the 4th of July one year. My mother relented to my begging and pleading. LaDonna brought her 4 year old daughter Kaycee with them and we giggled the whole way to the Pic-n-Sav parking lot that night in Victorville. Kaycee was considerably younger than me, as I was around 11 years old at the time, but she was a sweet little girl and I really enjoyed playing with her. We had spent hours playing with My Little Pony's up until this point in time.


LaDonna and her husband had brought a variety of fireworks with them. They set off the Roman Candles first, and we oohed and aahed the way only an innocent child would. The bottle rockets were set up in a 2 liter bottle weighed down with a little water, kept as a reserve in case anything caught fire. They had thought of everything, and my mother began to ease a bit.


When finally they brought out the sparklers, they handed one to Kaycee who started to spell her name in the air. They offered one to me, but I declined; I knew what my mother would say.


"Go ahead, Manda" she said to me. "You can have one."


I squealed in delight, my voice squeaking slightly. "Really??"


"Why not," she said. My mother often had a way of surprising me like that. "It's the 4th of July after all."


I took the sparkler offered to me by LaDonna. She lit it with the small red Bic lighter she held in her left hand, and the world in front of me was magical. I was holding fireworks. I had this dazzling display of color in front of me that I alone controlled. I had wanted this moment for so long that I just stood there for a moment staring into the lovely little light.


"Write your name with it," Kaycee said. "I can do it, see?" She wrote her name in the air again, spelling out the letters as she went.


I had been taught cursive a number of years before, and all of my school assignments were to be done in cursive. Never before that moment did it make sense to me, but holding that little lighted sparkler out in front of me, it all made sense. Cursive was invented for sparklers, because you can't pick them up off of the page!


I wrote my name in broad, sweeping strokes, starting with a huge letter "A" and continuing around my body.


I was in paradise as I made the loop tall and strong for the "D" in my name. I had almost finished when I suddenly heard screaming.

When I turned around, I noticed Kaycee's father running towards her. She was still blissfully waving her sparkler through the air, oblivious to the fact that her head was very much on fire. I had accidentally bumped the top of her head with my sparkler and never noticed. The products in her hair instantly caught, and the flames leaped from her scalp like rabbits dancing in a field on a warm spring day.

Kaycee's father began to slap at the flames, struggling like mad to put them out before his daughter resembled a scorched cue ball. He slapped and pounded, beating poor, oblivious Kaycee in the head. She dropped her sparkler to the ground and reached up to defend herself against the unprovoked attack. She screamed and cried, her father yelled at her to hold still, and LaDonna stood back in a panic. All of us had forgotten about the water in the 2 liter bottle right at Kaycee's feet.

When finally the flames were put out, I gave the rest of my remaining sparkler to Kaycee and sat down in a lawn chair by my mother. To this day I've never finished writing my name with a sparkler. LaDonna never invited us go to with them again, and I wasn't allowed to play with Kaycee for a while after that; at least until her hair grew back in.


Happy 4th of July, Everyone.

Just - don't light anyone on fire. It's not as fun as it sounds.

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