There is no greater evidence that you are officially “old” than when July 4th stops being a celebration and becomes an annoyance. Breaking news: I’m there.
It’s similar to the three stages of Christmas — first you believe in Santa, next you are Santa and finally you look like Santa.
This is true of fireworks. You go from a joyful, “This is fun!” to a scornful, “You think that’s funny?” in just a few years. Or in our family, it’s “Don’t throw your fireworks,” followed by “If you insist on throwing them, just not at your sister” and then “What did I just say?” Threats, shouts and inventory confiscations follow. And that’s before breakfast.
Loud, smoky, dangerous Independence Days were all I knew growing up. Small towns like my own had liberal laws about fireworks. Correction — they had no laws. Things were different then. Dads spanked, moms spanked, the nuns who taught us spanked. No one heard of a juice cleanse. Our movies were “Billy Jack” and “Walking Tall.” Our protest song was “One Tin Soldier.”
And life, dare I say, was divine.
In 1973, Wal-Mart had not yet arrived to our town. We had Gibson Discount. Historians tell us that Herbert Gibson was in a race to beat Sam Walton in the volume discount business. We know who won that race. To work at Gibsons —known as Gibbies — there was one job requirement: You needed a pulse, which explained how my kid brother Marty got hired. (On that day, Sam’s success was secure.)
Marty started in the garden section, and his command of weed spray that killed weeds, bugs, plants and even humans led to his promotion to sporting goods, where Marty held sway on Zebco reels and Remington shotguns.
All this at the mature age of 16.
There were two businesses that the Gibbie’s hadn’t claimed: firecracker stands and bait shops.
So both flourished.
And growing up we spent our lawn-mowing money on smoke bombs, firecrackers and minnows. The rest we wasted. And still today my hometown remains firecracker crazy. So naturally when our kids had the choice between a Leawood July 4th playing Candy Land or in Great Bend blowing up plastic bottles, there was little hesitation.
But as a parent it lost all its allure.
Cats have nine lives but Black Cats, in my son’s hands, have just one. And they go quick.
My dad was a central part of the kids’ pleasure. He gave each grandchild a hundred dollar bill, drove them to the fireworks stand and said, “Have fun!” By afternoon he would fix himself a vodka tonic, sit on the shaded porch and chuckle.
I miss those days. Actually not really. I’m not a fan of loud noises that make my ears ring. I don’t care for firecracker stands, either. Old Boy Scout stands were fun and you contributed to some neighbor kid making Eagle. Modern ones are dreadful. For starters, they aren’t built out of discarded lumber. They are huge commercial enterprises found along two-lane highways, with monstrous signs that double as solar eclipses.
There are other things I don’t miss. Grown adults who love fireworks represent a certain demographic who think Mensa is a STD. These guys flunked swim class, yet stand above deep bodies of water while drunk and try to light fuses.
I’ve got other issues. In the old days, fireworks and the things that went with them had fun names. Like punks. It was cool to say “punk” a billion times in one day. And then never utter the word again for 364 days. You had things like Lady Fingers, Whiz Bangs, Roman Candles, Artillery Shells, Fighting Roosters and Magnolia Fountains. Their function was secondary to shouting — “Hey, here goes a Whiz Bang!” Everyone watched. Life was grand.
Today’s names: Lock and Load and Barely Legal and something called “That’s what I’m talking about.” No thanks.
And then when the day’s over, you have evening fireworks shows. The Leawood show is fine, I guess, but I really dislike getting stuck in traffic along College Boulevard and then parking with half the world’s population. I’m not a fan of lugging folding chairs plastered with Dicks Sporting Goods while my shirt melts to my chest. When the show starts, I’m on the verge of nodding off. And then you never know when the show has ended until people start racing for their cars.
I could go on longer, but need my nap.
Freelance columnist Matthew Keenan writes on the first and third Wednesday of the month. His book “Call Me Dad, Not Dude, the sequel” is sold at Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Visit his blog at matthewkeenan.com or e-mail him at email@example.com.