Independence Day has to be the most patriotic of all American holidays. For as long as I can remember, we celebrated the day by going on picnics, pigging out, playing soccer, volleyball, baseball, or badminton at a state park, city park, or at the beach on Chicago’s lakefront. My favorite part was always the fireworks. The last few years, everyone has been more conscious about protecting our environment. So we try not to litter and not to pollute the air. However, the Fourth of July is the one day that it’s permissable to set off illegal fireworks in Chicago. The streets are literally littered by the remains of fireworks and the air quality is clearly polluted for a day or two. Indendendence Day is a day when hardly anyone thinks green. Some people in Chicago even shoot off guns on this day. You don’t really want to be driving around while all the fireworks are in progress. It’s just too dangerous in Chicago. On the news you hear reports of people getting shot and/or getting injured by fireworks. There are also accidental fires caused by fireworks. But that’s how we celebrate in Chicago. I find it hard to believe that no one I knew was ever injured by fireworks.
Growing up in Back of the Yards, everyone had illegal fireworks. We knew all about how to handle fireworks safely, but we used to do everything possible that would place ourselves in the most possible danger. Only adults were supposed to handle fireworks. But my friends and I were lighting firecrackers since we were nine. You were supposed to set firecrackers on the ground and then light them, but we used to light them in our hands and then throw them at each other. Timing was very important. You also had to watch the others as they lit their firecrackers in order to be able to dodge any and all firecrackers that came your way AND not letting your firecracker blow of in your hand. Yes, I’m still truly amazed that no one was ever even slightly injured!
One summer, one of my friends got the idea of letting a firecracker blow up in our hand. We all thought he was crazy. But then he held his open hand palm up and let a firecracker blow up in his hand. We just stared at him in amazement. Then, he dared us to do the same thing. We all hesitated, but none of us wanted to be called chicken the rest of the summer so we all did it once. I must admit that it was rather scary watching the wick burn down until the firecracker blew up. It was loud because it was rather close to my ear and my had did stng a lot from the explosion, but I didn’t get burned or anything.
One summer, on the fifth of July, I woke up early and I walked all through the neighborhood picking all the dud firecrackers that I could find. I carefully collected all the gunpowder from them and put it in a lead pipe about four inches long. I put a cap on one end of the pipe and a firecracker on the other. I wasn’t even sure if this thing would blow up. But if it did, I knew it would be a huge blast. All my friends wanted to see the explosion, but I told them that they had to hide until after the explosion was over.
We had a clubhouse in our back yard at our house at 4405 S. Wood Street. I set the pipe down by the clubhouse. My plan was to light the firecracker in the pipe and hide behind the clubhouse. I only had to take two steps to duck for cover. I made sure everyone was hiding before I even thought about lighting it. Well, I lit it, I turned to run, and I took only two steps when the pipe blew up. I barely made it behind the clubhouse for cover. That is, most of me had made it, save for my left foot. I felt the blast on my foot and at first I thought I had blown off my foot. About a second later, I heard some of the shredded pipe pieces falling on the concrete in the alley. When the smoke cleared, I looked at my foot. I was wearing low-cut gym shoes and the blast had blown off the part of my sock that covered my ankle. But I was uninjured! By sheer luck!
Now, every Fourth of July, I keep a wary eye on my sons lest they injure themselves with fireworks. Of course, I never tell them any of the things we used to do with fireworks when we were boys. I don’t want to give them any ideas!