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Freedom, Fireworks and Little Kids


A history of the Fourth shows attempts all across the country to ban those dangerous explosive toys. They have driven Presidents to duck from an imagined assassin’s gunfire. Fireworks often sent carriage horses into a rampage. And who among us hasn't got a fireworks horror story from grade school to share? I remember a kid in fourth grade who swore he could hold a lit 2-inch "lady finger" while it exploded. He did it with an open balm and we were amazed. Then one day he closed his fist at the critical moment and one of his own fingers found itself at some distance from his body. I wasn't there for the explosion, but when he came to school after the holiday, his finger stayed behind.

Firecracker Safety -- Not /

Kids have lost their hearing. Kids have lost their eyes. My cousin used to shimmy up a tree that hung over the road in front of his house and drop firecrackers into the backs of passing trucks. When the drivers stopped to check on what-sounded-like a blown out tire, he almost fall from the tree stifling his laughter. Then he moved on to frogs. I was there when he popped a lit cherry bomb down the gullet of a poor old toad. For decorum's sake, I'll leave you to imagine the finale.

Victorian author Thomas Bailey Aldrich writes that when he was a bad little boy in Portsmouth before the Civil War, kids were fixated on fireworks. He says:

There was very little hard study done in the Temple Grammar School the week preceding the Fourth of July. For my part, my heart and brain were so full of fire-crackers, Roman candles, rockets, pin-wheels, squibs, and gunpowder in various seductive forms, that I wonder I didn't explode under Mr. Grimshaw's very nose. I couldn't do a sum to save me; I couldn't tell, for love or money, whether Tallahassee was the capital of Tennessee or of Florida; the present and the pluperfect tenses were inextricably mixed in my memory, and I didn't know a verb from an adjective when I met one. This was not alone my condition, but that of every boy in the school."

Tom Bailey's teacher, however, had a devilishly clever solution:

"Mr. Grimshaw considerately made allowances for our temporary distraction, and sought to fix our interest on the lessons by connecting them directly or indirectly with the coming Event. The class in arithmetic, for instance, was requested to state how many boxes of fire-crackers, each box measuring sixteen inches square, could be stored in a room of such and such dimensions. He gave us the Declaration of Independence for a parsing exercise, and in geography confined his questions almost exclusively to localities rendered famous in the Revolutionary War."


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