There is nothing a 14-year-old boy likes better than an explosion, and nothing more entertaining than a night of fireworks. At least so it is with my son, Sam, whose teenage solution to all problems is the wise-ass comment: “Let’s blow it up.” He says this just to irk me, I know, but it does convey a glimpse into the workings of his teenage brain, even if it sounds a bit clichéd.
For his recent birthday, Sam’s requests were varied: lemon cake, a collection of Shakespeare’s plays and fireworks. And, as part of the occasion, we took a trip to Mess’s Fireworks, a factory outlet store in Great Bend, PA. Sam and his friend traipsed the aisles of the warehouse in awe, feverishly calculating how many Roman candles, camellia flowers and mortars they could procure for $50. Just the names of all the available pyrotechnics were fun—“neighbor hater,” “total chaos,” “bigger than life” (fountain style), “cruel mistress” (mortars) and “friendship pagoda,” to name a few. Exploding chickens, frogs and lady bugs figured prominently. You can even get a wooden Howwitzer 105MM artillery crate to store your fireworks in.
It was amusing to watch the kids, as well. But I also felt a little wistful when I remembered taking Sam for a tour of Marshall Machinery on his fourth birthday. Then, he was vibrating with excitement as we strolled in the grassy field filled with tractors and farm equipment, without a bit of money spent.
These days, the kids can hardly wait till dark to start firing things off and roll their eyes at my continual safety warnings. “We know, we know,” they say. This is not like you are just eating a little “play-doh” I think, remembering that dough’s enormous culinary appeal to their two-year-old selves. Plus, if there is anything I know about fireworks, it is that bigger is better. You might start small with a firecracker taped to a cardboard airplane, followed by the combustion of an old rat-haired Barbie doll and so forth, addictively progressing up the fire food chain, until before you know it the house is on fire.
Most elegant of all the fireworks, however, are the paper balloons known as “sky lanterns,” which float on the air currents, operated by an open flame. Last year, returning from the movies in Callicoon, NY, John and the kids saw a flotilla of sky lanterns, apparently launched from a party on a neighboring hill. The kids were scared, fearing alien invasion. But at least John knew better, although according to the kids, he hopped out of the car and invited the “aliens” down for a visit. The next day we found one of the white balloons snagged in a neighboring field. Needless to say, all of this has become quite a joke in our family.
This year the kids were delighted to find sky lanterns for sale at Mess’s Fireworks. They are lovely to watch, drifting away in the night air, over the hill, until they are just a speck of light.