Have a happy and safe Fourth of July

BY RANDALL RIGSBEE, News + Record Staff
Posted 7/5/19

The grass is always greener on the other side, the proverb tells us.

And so it was when I was a teenager that we looked to our neighboring state to the south for two things unavailable here: …

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Have a happy and safe Fourth of July

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The grass is always greener on the other side, the proverb tells us.

And so it was when I was a teenager that we looked to our neighboring state to the south for two things unavailable here: quickie marriages and fireworks.

At the time, South Carolina was fabled as a state with more lenient marriage laws than North Carolina, so young couples once talked of eloping there. Marriage wasn’t tops on most of my friends’ minds at that age, nor was it central in mine, so those marriage laws may have just been a rumor; but we had plenty of use for fireworks, and among my circle of friends we always seemed to have a supply of them that someone had purchased across the border and brought back home as valuable contraband.

North Carolina’s laws surrounding fireworks have changed a bit over the years since. You can now purchase sparklers here and an assortment of other things that pop, fizzle and emit colored smoke. But what we considered “real” fireworks were available most closely to the Tar Heel State, then and now, only from our southern counterpart.

Across the state line to our south you could purchase real pyrotechnics such as firecrackers and bottle rockets and, of course, the legendary M-80, which one friend claimed could blow up a toilet, though none of us ever asked that friend for proof of his bold and frightening claim, or attempted to prove it ourselves. Nevertheless, we knew the M-80 — in fact, all of those products with the Chinese characters on the packaging — deserved respect.

By rights, I should have been terrified of firecrackers. My mother was fond of solemnly telling us a cautionary story about a woman she knew who, as a young child, had mistaken a lighted firecracker for a piece of candy and had suffered a terrible injury as a result. I don’t doubt the veracity of the story; but, though my mother’s warning has stayed with me all these years, it didn’t deter me (or my older brother or any of my friends to whom I’d repeated my mother’s tale) from spending a good portion of our grass-mowing money on fireworks whenever we found ourselves in the Palmetto State, or from putting those purchases to good use once back home.

Such “good use” included waterproofing the firecrackers with tin foil, a trick whose particulars are lost to me over time; I only remember that, somehow, we knew to wrap the firecrackers in the foil and, thus protected from the extinguishing effects of water, light them and throw them into the creek, where they’d explode with a watery aftershock, terrorizing whatever aquatic life was nearby. As derelict as the activity sounds to me as an adult, no water snakes or salamanders were injured.

Or we’d take bottle rockets, and a bottle in which to prop them, to the nearby Eno River, where we’d climb one of the high banks and aim the projectiles skyward where they’d explode over the river. It was endlessly entertaining, or at least as long as our supply lasted.

We never got hurt. Never lost a finger, or an eye. Never mistook a firework for a lozenge.

But before I get too cocky about it, I acknowledge the potential for fireworks to cause harm. There’s a risk any time fire and explosive powders are used in conjunction.

Ironically, the only actual fireworks injury I’m personally aware of occurred courtesy of one of those sparklers that you can buy legally here. When my daughter was 10 or 11, she decided the best way to celebrate the Fourth of July was to run around the front yard at dusk with a sparkler blazing in each hand. No daredevil, my daughter was having an innocent, parentally-supervised and lawfully-sanctioned good time until she accidentally touched one of the spent sparklers, the wire still hot, burning her fingers. It wasn’t a severe burn, treatable with the aloe plant we had at home. But the first-degree burn was enough to turn my daughter off of fireworks completely.

Exactly what the appeal of firecrackers and such is, especially, it seems, to the young, I can’t precisely say, other than we seem to get a thrill out of seeing things explode.

The older, more cautious version of me that exists today doesn’t have much use for fireworks, as the younger version of me once did. Stopping at South of the Border a few years ago, once a ritual when traveling on I-95, I purchased a multi-pack of firecrackers and some bottle rockets, just because I was in South Carolina and I could. I certainly didn’t need a quickie marriage, but a few over-the-counter explosives might come in handy, I reasoned. It turns out I didn’t need them, either; they sat forgotten on a shelf until I threw them, and the dust they’d collected, in the trash.

My mother, if asked, would surely tell me that’s their proper place. I wouldn’t go that far, but I would advise the normal cautions for anyone, young or old, using them, legal or otherwise.

Enjoy a happy and safe celebration of the Fourth.


Randall Reflects


Randall Reflects


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