It wasn’t the Fourth without fireworks

by Juanita Lovret
Reprinted courtesy of the Tustin News

Friends gathered for a Fourth of July potluck party at the home of A. D. and Myrtie Turner in 1923. Turner served as postmaster in Tustin between 1902 and 1914.

Fireworks and Fourth of July were synonymous when I was a kid. Laws that prevented them from being sold or used were unheard of.

We saved our nickels and dimes for weeks to finance an arsenal of sky rockets, Roman candles, tiny red lady fingers, whirligigs, snakes and sparklers. Few of us ever saved enough to buy a big box of assorted fireworks, but a dad who wanted to relive his childhood usually could be persuaded to finance such a purchase.

We developed all kinds of tricks to increase the noise of lady fingers. Tying several together and using a punk to light them all at once resulted in a continuous rata-tat-tat as each one ignited. The same little firecracker could produce an earsplitting bang when it was thrust under a tin can after it was lit. Unless the dogs cowered and whined in terror, we thought we weren’t generating enough noise for a proper celebration.

We were warned by our parents year after year, but we still scorched our fingers when we held lighted firecrackers too long before tossing them into the air. We’d singe our hair when we got too close to the match as we lit the punk used to ignite the fireworks. And our ear drums would throb from the racket, but no amount of pain and suffering could bring about a cease fire from early morning to dark on the Fourth.

Bedtimes were ignored since Roman candles, sky rockets, fountains, whirligigs and sparklers could be enjoyed only after dark. We became spectators as adults took charge of lighting any fireworks which whooshed into the air and might be fickle unless properly handled.
The Fourth of July was a time of camaraderie. During the day kids ganged together, trying to outdo each other in the amount of noise created. At night friends and neighbors gathered and pooled their fireworks for longer and more brilliant displays of cascading flares, star-like sparklers and fireballs.

Everyone was hungry by the time the evening celebrations began. Picnic suppers of fried chicken and potato salad were polished off quickly followed by homemade ice cream, luscious cakes, pies and cookies plus watermelon.

My family followed a tradition which dated back to my mother’s childhood. Neighbors gathered for a multi-generation celebration, including grandparents, parents and children. Several men were designated to be in charge of the fireworks after dark. The rest of the group was seated on lawn chairs and blankets well away from them.

Children could have sparklers, but only in a certain area with an adult to light them. This cautious routine had begun years before after a match had been accidentally dropped into a large pile of fireworks. Dozens of Roman candles and sky rockets ignited, scudding along the ground in all directions with children and adults dodging and scurrying to keep from being hit. There were no serious injuries or damage, but care was taken to avoid a recurrence of the frightening experience.

Have a happy Fourth of July.


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