So there I was, wearily walking into my kitchen on the morning of July 5. I was recovering from a busy family-filled weekend of celebrating our nation’s independence and my nephew’s seventh birthday party. Looking for a place to rest my cereal bowl, I couldn’t help noticing how strange my teenage son Daniel’s brand new iPhone 6 looked sitting on the counter. First off, the body was curved where it once was flat. Second, the screen, formerly clear, was now covered in a silvery mesh of shattered glass. I decided to inquire of the lad how his beloved phone had come to be in such a sad condition. Eventually, I gleaned the following narrative:
It seems he and his friend were shooting off legal (he repeated that point emphatically) fireworks the previous night near his buddy’s house. At one point, Daniel was using the flashlight accessory on his phone to assist in the fuse-lighting process. Then, without warning, this particular firework went off prematurely and exploded in front of his face, nearly immolating him. Luckily, my son survived with both eyes intact, but the iPhone was a complete loss. He felt there was no cause for concern on my part since the device was insured (“Right, Dad, we do have insurance?”). My first response, as is my default mode, was tinged with a hint of sarcasm. “I’m not sure we’re insured against abject stupidity, son.” One of the many pluses to having English teachers as parents is you get to hear words like “abject” used around the house on a regular basis.
Before I could work myself into a good lather over his clear lack of common sense, my mind flashed back to an incident that took place almost four decades prior when I was a wee lad of ten. I was with my younger brother Justin in a small town in northern Michigan called L’anse. It’s a place primarily known for the Hilltop Restaurant, which features cinnamon rolls that weigh over a pound each. As you can see, it is not without irony that our local college team is nicknamed the Huskies. My parents had driven us down there from nearby Houghton to visit some of their friends. With no kids of our own age around, we got bored and decided to go down some railroad tracks on a walk.
We hadn’t gone very far when Justin pulled out from his pocket some matches and a bunch of Black Cat brand firecrackers. Before you harshly judge my parents as to why an eight-year-old possesses explosives, please, remember this was a very different time in child-rearing. We kids took long trips while sleeping unsecured against the car’s rear window. My father had a rack of unlocked guns in the back porch with nothing but the fear of his belt to keep us away (which was generally enough). Bike helmets? Pshaw! We would only borrow someone’s motorcycle helmet when we planned on imitating Evel Knievel with a piece of plywood for a makeshift ramp and a ditch filled with nails and broken glass playing the part of the Snake River Canyon (google it kids, we had real role models growing up).
We had gone through about a dozen crackers relocating ant hills for urban renewal projects (it was the ’70s), when we decided to try something different. The plan called for Justin to light a firecracker as I was holding it in my fingers, then I would throw it like a grenade and have it blow-up in midair. The first couple of times the effect was pretty impressive, so we tried to improve on it. This new scenario called for me to hold my arm out behind my back as he lit the fuse. The logic being that I could then throw the bomb further. The next conversation went like this (I give the first line).
“Okay, go ahead”
“I already did.”
I only got my head turned about halfway around when, “BANG!!” the firecracker exploded between the tips of my right thumb and forefinger. I was momentarily distracted from the pain by the deafening, high-pitched ringing in my right ear, but that would only serve as a short respite. Soon, every nerve in my finger was on fire, and I remember frantically waving them around trying to shake off the agony I was feeling. Cursing him every step of the way, we hurried back to the house where my parents were still visiting. Justin was nice enough to sneak some ice-cubes out of the fridge, so I could nurse my wounds. It didn’t take long for enormous black blood blisters to form at the twin blast sites. These types of injuries are also very sensitive, as I discovered later that evening during a game of air hockey at a local pizza place.
Due to my messed-up fingers, I was playing my brother left-handed. Without realizing it, my two damaged digits were dangling over the edge of the table and into the field of play. This oversight on my part was brought to my attention after my brother smashed them with a direct shot off his striker. Keep in mind, as with most things, a commercial-quality air hockey puck had considerably more mass when compared to it’s much thinner brethren today. It was at that moment that I first realized why Wile E. Coyote always had stars in his eyes when a boulder fell on him. Falling to my knees, I howled until I started sucking on my twice-insulted fingers. My mind then snapped back to the present.
My reminiscence had only taken a split-second to flash by, but it reminded me about how some lessons in life need to be discovered first-hand (no pun intended). We all make mistakes, and I was certainly no exception. I could see by his expression that Daniel had learned from his lapse in judgement and that yelling at him about it would serve no real purpose. Instead, I finished making my breakfast and left him in peace, satisfied that I had followed the right parental course. I was able to maintain that happy illusion for almost a whole day.
It was getting on dark that night, and I was out in the sunroom reading with the lights on. Daniel had hosted a World Cup watching party earlier, which was just breaking up. He was out of sight in front, I assumed saying his good-byes, when suddenly I heard a muffled “Whoomph!” followed by an window-rattling explosion. Before I could even react, three more blasts followed in quick succession. Either someone was reenacting the WWII siege of Stalingrad, or I was under attack by a roving band of crazed lunatics. As you most likely already guessed, it was only my son and his cronies who were now armed with even larger fireworks than the night before.
This time he had gone too far. Even if no one got hurt, the other adults in my neighborhood all had to work in the morning. I threw down my book in anticipation of really letting him have it, but before I could even get out my chair, another memory came to mind. This one took place after the one I related earlier. It involved a scale Star Wars TIE fighter model and a firecracker I was convinced was only a dud. At least that’s what I thought until it blew up. Shards of hot plastic shrapnel had shot into my face nearly blinding me. Thankfully, the only lasting injury was a slight scar near my left eye. Turns out, my son was just like me. I really hadn’t learned my lesson the first time either. He would have to figure this one out without my interference. With that thought in mind, I calmly picked up my book, sat back down and resumed reading.
I let his mother yell at him instead.