Would you like fries with that?
When I was a teenager, fireworks were perfectly legal to own and shoot in most of Texas. Had this not been the case, there might be more wood shingle rooftops today.
I fear I have contributed to at least a few shingle replacements, and I know I’m responsible for an entire kitchen remodel. You see, when I was a teenager I sold firecrackers, bottle rockets, and whistling chasers from our family farm located behind Southfork Ranch.
My folks didn’t seem to mind that their front porch held enough fire power to compete with the Cotton Bowl fireworks extravaganza. Probably they were just thrilled to see me earning money they didn’t have to earn first.
Nowadays, most folks realize it’s dangerous for children to ignite pyrotechnics during one of the driest months of the year, especially in a grassfire prone state. But back then, I guess people were less concerned. Maybe they figured a burned lawn is one that won’t need mowing.
No one in my family ever caught the yard on fire. The house? Yes, but never the lawn.
My siblings and I received strict fireworks instructions from Dad. “Point the bottom end of that Roman candle away from you,” he’d caution. After I’d seen one of Dad’s errant Roman candles misfire, launching a ball of flame over my head, I really didn’t need to be told this. Being a wise older sister, I also knew to keep the designated exploding end of these fire sticks aimed away from me and towards my brothers.
Like most boys, my younger siblings could be destructive with or without fireworks. Firecrackers simply gave them more options.
Several of my Barbie dolls owe their demise to a fist-full of Black Cats. But I wasn’t terribly upset when my Barbies’ demoralizing bodies were blackened. I’d already outgrown the dolls and was yet too young to realize their future eBay values. Fortunately, my brothers never blew up anything I treasured, like, say, maybe a Tiger Beat poster of Bobby Sherman. That would have instigated the disappearance of at least three G.I. Joes.
During my youth, Independence Day was a more celebrated and dangerous time when otherwise law-abiding citizens morphed into mailbox felons overnight. Rooftops smoldered beneath rockets’ embers. Grassfires dotted roadway ditches at night. And ever so often, some hoodlum would shoot a Texas Twister into a fully stocked fireworks stand. Secretly I was enthused by the astonishing light show that typically followed.
Though I wasn’t a particularly destructive kid, while tending our family’s fireworks stand, I did set fire to the kitchen.
This wasn’t entirely my fault. Okay, maybe I was partially responsible. All right, I flat out suffered an idiot attack.
It was July 4, the peak sales day for fireworks, and there seemingly was no end to the extent of customers who wanted to prove their patriotism by blowing up something. All morning, I’d been serving anxious buyers. My stomach ached from hunger, but the crowds kept coming. Finally, there was a break in traffic, so I raced indoors to fry some French fries. But then I heard cars arriving again, possibly ones with cute boys inside.
Quickly I turned on a gas stove burner, poured some frozen fries into a skillet full of vegetable oil, and rushed back outside.
By the time I remembered the skillet, it was too late.
When I returned to the kitchen, the stove was engulfed in flames. And to make matters worse, the fries were ruined.
Not long after this, my parents sold their farm, and they never again encouraged me to sell fireworks. But sometimes when I’m driving through rural areas and I spot a little fireworks stand, I feel an overwhelming urge to stop—and offer French fries.
Diana Estill is the author of Deedee Divine’s Totally Skewed Guide to Life.