Friday, July 09, 2004

DIY pyrotechnics blog.

This short week’s blogs have been about fireworks by profession pyrotechnicians, but I shouldn’t neglect the do-it-yourself variety. The unmistakable smell of gunpowder takes me back to the world of Black Cat firecrackers and even cheaper generics, bottle rockets, sparklers, smoke bombs, cherry bombs, the euphemistically named whizzling chasers, Roman candles and assorted sizes of rockets.

When I was small, those fireworks stands beyond the city limits seemed so big, with hundreds of choices lined on the shelves, decked out in gaudy Oriental paper or rocket-like silver, from the basic and dirt-cheap firecrackers to the huge, mysterious constructions and tubes that cost a fortune. We never bought much of the expensive stuff, but I'm glad it was there, all the same.

My older brothers taught me how to use fireworks, how not to be an idiot with them. Don’t throw them at people, especially your brothers. Don’t hold on to them after lighting the fuse. Don’t go over and eye the duds to see what was wrong. Eyes and fingers were at stake. Even a little kid can understand that.

When we lived in Denton, Texas, in the mid-60s, we’d go out to a place outside of town we called “firecracker hill” to use our fireworks. Not all that often, but just enough for me to have an amalgamated memory of going there more than once. There were certain ways to set the 'works up and shoot them off, certain rituals. Bottle rockets, for instance, were put in bottles and aimed at the sky. No lighting and tossing of those -- that was for firecrackers. Sometimes two would go in the small bottle, with their fuses twisted together. Light. Step back. Pfuft! Sometimes it made an orange streak going up, sometimes not. Sometimes it ended with a pop!, sometimes not.

If I remember right, we’d also mix up the order of shooting. A few firecrackers, some bottle rockets, a small rocket, more firecrackers, bottle rockets, and then maybe a Roman candle. We never got many of them, since they were relatively expensive. Also, we never held Roman candles in our hands -- the idiot way to do it. No, they stood upright and shot straight up while we watched at a distance. Pfuft! One! Pfuft! Two! We’d count the different-colored fireballs as they emerged. Usually, I think, we got eight or nine, but sometimes there were extras.

After moving to South Texas in 1968, I continued using fireworks occasionally into high school, usually in my back yard, in violation of San Antonio city ordinance. That had its moments, but looking back, it can’t compare to firecracker hill, which I never saw again after I was seven.


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