Janet Sheridan: Firebugs and fireworks

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Janet Sheridan

I learned to appreciate fiery spectacles from my brother, Bob, a dedicated arsonist.

“Quick! Everybody!! Get outside. Bob set the field on fire again.”

We knew the drill: Anyone at home and ambulatory hurried to grab a gunny sack, dunk it in the irrigation tank, and whack at the line of flames creeping through the pasture.

We punctuated our blows with scathing comments about Bob and his IQ. He ran around screeching and walloping as though daft.

With winter fields buried under drifts of snow, Bob maintained his skills by firing the granary: a shabby structure of weathered boards holding sacks of grain and bales of hay that smelled like summer.

Three different times on the same January day, Bob stomped on flames he’d created in the granary and called for Dad, working in a shed nearby, to help fight the fire.

The first time Dad came running, he asked, “What do you think you’re doing? Are you crazy?” The second, he mixed threats of painful punishment with heartfelt profanity. The third, he sent Bob to the house and put out the flames in bewildered speechlessness.

When questioned later, Bob explained his firebug behavior: “I kept getting cold.”

Raised with such fire-fueled drama, I became an early fan of the various fireworks that accompanied the Fourth of July.

My cousins and I loved sparklers, but each year angry adults confiscated them when we attempted to brand one another or poke out eyeballs. Thus our family celebrations never included firecrackers, Roman candles, or bottle rockets — we couldn’t be trusted.

But, community fireworks have consistently delighted me. I enjoy gathering with others to wait for the night sky to burst into fountains of brilliance. I like hearing spectators ooh and ah in unison as dogs howl in the background.

In 1996, I smiled when I learned Craig, my new home, had splendid Fourth of July fireworks.

As a flatlander, I enjoy the pregame entertainment — searching for the perfect viewing spot — as much as the show. Last year, Joel and I drove around with out-of-town guests checking out possibilities. We debated the merits of several, before agreeing on a Sandrocks location we deemed ideal.

As we waited for the night to darken, we watched a variety of vehicles and drivers navigate the rutted, narrow road looping and branching behind the Sandrocks like a confused creek.

Some drivers threw caution to the wind and flew over bumps and ruts: passengers and headlights bouncing. Others crept along, swinging wide to avoid the biggest holes and trying two or three different locations before backing out again and cautiously disappearing over a hill.

Twice we watched a standoff as cars approached from different directions on the constricted roadway.

Each driver seemed willing to break the impasse, but unsure how. Eventually, one gunned the engine, lurched up on the steep bank, and waved magnanimously as the other passed.

Most folks had settled by the time the fireworks began, though one SUV cruised slowly back and forth throughout the entire show. Perhaps the occupants couldn’t agree on the best location and their perpetual motion was a compromise.

As always, the fireworks amazed me: small balls of fire erupting into pinwheels, comet tails, and starry streamers; multi-hued lights falling like luminous waterfalls; willows of color fading into the black background of the night.

Then, too soon, the annual moment of uncertainty arrived: some cars left, others lingered, and indecision reigned:

“Let’s get out of here ahead of the crowd.”

“But was that the finale?”

“No, couldn’t be, usually they finish big.”

“Stop the car, Dad! There’s more. See? Stop!!”

What a fine Fourth of July tradition, these fireworks, what a wonderful way to celebrate our country and our love of its goodness.

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