ENGINEER’S GUIDE TO
The Fourth of July was in three weeks. Fireworks is a masculine activity.
I knew that this was an opportunity to teach Mike, my eight-year-old son all about the splendor, excitement, history—and danger of fireworks.
My wife had no clue as to the intricacies of this manly endeavor and shouldn’t take part in any phase.
“Son, we are going to buy some fireworks. You will choose one of each type so you can learn all you need to know. They are very dangerous but you will have a chance to see how it is done on the Fourth of July coming up and to learn how to use them safely.”
I drove with Mike to a nearby small community where fireworks were sold. I always stayed at or below the posted speed limit as an example.
“Buy One—Get One Free” blazed the sign above the wooden shack. I guided Mike up to the counter.
“You can pick out one type of everything you see here.”
Mike jumped up and down, his eyes level with the counter.
“Oh yes. Some firecrackers and—what are these?” He pointed at the red balls with a fuse sticking out.
“Cherry bombs.” I said. “They can blow your hand off.”
“Are these roman candles? I want some of them and…some sparklers.”
Mike began filling a cardboard box that the attendant handed him.
“What is this tall tube?” He grabbed a tube with a wood block attched.
“That’s a sky-bomb. Very dangerous. It will send a missle high in the air that explodes with a very loud bang,” I said, smiling. “We’ll take that one and two of these and that larger one there.” We got one of everything.
“Wow!” Mike said, jumping up and down.
As I drove home, I began to give Mike instructions on the use of fireworks.
“Mike, you must never ever set off fireworks in the city limits. It is illegal. And our neighbors would be very unhappy. Do you understand?”
“Yes Dad. Where are we going to shoot these?”
“On the 4th we will drive out to a secluded parking lot or gravel area. Not in any city.”
“Like this one right there?” Mike pointed.
“Very good. Yes. That might be perfect. But you must remember that I need to light these. You can watch and when you get older, maybe next year, you can set them off yourself. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Dad.” Mike dropped his head.
A week later, I returned from my work at a very important company and went to the mailbox at the street. I noticed in horror small burned paper evidence of firecrackers strewn on the pavement. I looked up to see my eight-year-old neighbor’s son run into his house.
I confronted Mike. “You have taken firecrackers from the box and set them off in the street!”
Mike stood in front of me with his head hung. He didn’t deny that he had disobeyed my order not to touch the fireworks until the 4th of July.
“You must be taught a lesson for this. You will not get to see these set off. I am donating the box to an orphan home where the children know how to obey authority.
I knew that Mike would remember this extreme punishment and learn from it.
Even so, I wanted to save these fireworks, perhaps until a year later. So I hid the box in the basement garage above my workbench. I pushed it into a corner of the top shelf where tools and supplies were stored. This was a perfect place where Mike wouldn’t find them.
Months later, I was working at my bench on a steel part for a car I was re-building. The part was clamped in a vice to hold it while I pressed an industrial grade right-angle grinder against the part to grind it to a desired shape.
The right-angle grinder is a masculine tool that sends a long heavy stream of sparks. I wore a head and face hood for protection.
With my head down and intent on the part, I heard, over the sound of my grinding, a whistling noise. It began on a high note and descended, similar to a Stuka bomber in a dive. I stopped my grinding and was pounded by a loud explosion from up above—where the fireworks box was hidden.
I ripped off my hood and look up to see bright flashes of fireworks going off. The box whistled and flashed with repeated explosions.
I realized that the house would be burned down. The fireworks were up against the wood floor and framing. It would be impossible to save the house. But I looked at the two cars in the garage and saw that I might save them.
I ran to the garage door opener on the wall and yelled to my wife upstairs, “Call the fire department! Call the fire department!”
I punched the garage door opener. More and larger explosions continued from the fireworks. The garage door started up.
The door jammed half-way up. The explosions had bent the door. I looked while my heart pounded. The cars will be burned up too. I screamed again, “Call the fire department! Call the fire department!”
At this moment, Mike came under the half opened garage door, holding a water hose. He walked to the back of the garage, and sent a heavy spray into the upper corner where the fire was raging. In a few seconds the fire was out.
My wife had not yet called the fire department.
I lay on my back in the driveway, regaining my breath. Relieved that my wife hadn’t called the fire department. I won’t have to explain to them that Mike had set off fireworks illegally in the street.
Perhaps the lesson I tried to teach him will be even more impressed on his brain that fireworks are dangerous