Baker’s Pick
John A. Ward

It’s Fourth of July, 1955. I’m 13 years old, in my first year of high school and starting to get interested in girls. When I’m a senior, I probably won’t care about fireworks anymore, but for now, my favorite is firecrackers. They come in packages of fifty with the fuses braided. Sometimes I unroll them to see the Chinese writing on the newspaper inside. I could set off a whole string, but never do that. It’s wasteful. Me and Cooder put one under a tin can to see how high it will blow. The lid pushes out and after a double dozen blows apart.

We make guns out of pipe, seal the end with a screw-on cap and drill a hole for the fuse. It’s a hand-held cannon. The cannon ball is a marble. I guess we’re lucky we never shoot our eyes out. Last summer we had a war, made a long-barreled gun on a bipod and fired it from the big rock in the woods. We used crab apples as hand grenades, bored a hole in an apple, stuck a firecracker in it, lit, and threw. When it went off, the attackers were splattered with applesauce shrapnel.

That’s the small stuff. The next level is half-inchers, that thick and two-and-a-half inches long. They have a red braided fuse and a red cylinder body, the kind of firecrackers you see in cartoons. They’re used the same way as little firecrackers, but have more bang.

Cherry bombs are next, round and red, like cherries. What’s neat is the fuses are waterproof. We throw them in the lake. They explode deep under, send up a plume and leave a hollow on the surface the waterspout flops back into. Somebody lights one and flushes it down the school toilet. It explodes inside the plumbing. I never do that. Cooder might, but I’m not saying.

Sometimes, Cooder’s uncle gets him special fireworks, like Roman candles. We put on a pyrotechnic display for the whole family. They shoot red, green, and gold balls of fire. There are fountains and pinwheels that shoot showers of sparks, and rockets too, that we stand up in a Coke bottle. They fly up like comets. One hits the cottonwood tree and bounces down from branch to branch, right into the middle of us. We scatter out of the yard. Cooder’s Mom thinks we’re going to burn down the house. There are torpedoes that we throw. They explode on impact. Cooder hits his sister in the butt with one and his Mom gets real mad.

We hardly ever see anything like a starburst. They’re considered very extravagant and only someone with money to burn would buy them.

We have sparklers. We light the first with wooden matches, which is very hard. After that, we light one sparkler from another. They burn very bright. They’re like little starbursts and we write our names with the afterglow. We try to make big circles and pictures and we dance with the light.

John A. Ward was born on Staten Island, attended Wagner College in the early ’60s, sold his first poem to Leatherneck magazine for $10, and became a biomedical scientist. He is now in San Antonio running, writing and living with his dance partner. E-mail: jaward04[at]

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