While consuming homemade fruit pies and artisanal sugar-free sodas, celebrating American independence from autocratic theocracy and greedy oligarchy, I am reminded of July 4th’s most famous lyric:
And the rocket’s red glare, the bomb bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there,
O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
These words are most vividly symbolized by another Fourth of July tradition: fireworks. So, in honor of Independence Day (and to grant me a day off from this column), I offer the following decade-old Daily Heller recollection.
Dateline: July 3, 2012
The Fourth of July is America’s one-day Mardi Gras. Independence Day is commemorated with all-American things: dogs and burgers, apple and cherry pies, fries and potato salad, parades and picnics, beer, beer and beer—and fireworks galore. Nothing’s more American than Chinese firecrackers, Roman candles and U.S. cherry bombs.
My July 4th tale is about that last item. When I went to military school as a young kid (don’t ask!), during maneuvers, cherry bombs were thrown by instructors near students to simulate grenades. Even to a 13-year-old, the practice seemed kind of barbaric. But it was standard operating procedure, so who was I to complain?
Ribbon bars were awarded every couple of weeks to recognize good scholarship, good conduct, good manners, good athletic skill, good manual dexterity, good drill, etc. Each of these categories was designated a color: blue for scholarship, orange for athletics, yellow for manners, and so on. But one color was reserved for the highest honor—the equivalent of the Congressional Medal of Honor—red. As designers, we know red represents Stop! Blood! Beware!—as well as Love! Red is the color of emotion. At this academy, red was the badge of Courage.
I soon learned why. Once, on a maneuver running up a hill, a bright red, unexploded cherry bomb fell in front of me, its fuse sizzling. I picked it up to throw it back at the smiling instructor. Before I could release it, BOOM—it blew up in my hand, making quite a bloody gash, though my fingers were intact. It hurt … but I took it like a man, as they told us to. The following week I received the red ribbon bar for Stupidity (or, rather, Courage).
On this July 4, remember: It’s better to watch fireworks than to pick them up when lit. (The packages below are contemporary and sold at roadside stands in New York State.)