Biff America: The lighted fuse of youth
Special to the Daily
He carried me from the car to my bed. Though I was slightly feverish I could smell a combination of sweat, whisky, Old Spice and gunpowder. I felt grown up and gifted.
It is said your olfactory memory is the strongest. Where remembrances of sights, sounds and recollections of events can blur over time the sense of smell can bring back vivid recalls of days and decades past. The smell of fireworks on the July 4th does that for me.
If you were born in the ’50s, ’60s, you grew up in a more dangerous world. A world where bicycle helmets, child seats and mouth guards were either not used or even invented. My Mum smoked and drank through six pregnancies (and look how well I turned out). We grew up playing with slingshots, BB guns and lawn darts. I’m not saying it was a better world but perhaps more fun and certainly less cautious.
Despite the laissez faire mindset of the time cherry bombs were illegal. For those too young to remember, cherry bombs were a red, round explosive device, slightly smaller than a golf ball with a green waterproof fuse. During a time when we (America) didn’t worry about much it was still determined that cherry bombs were a danger worth banning. That is not to say they were unavailable.
I would imagine that you could not find cherry bombs, even on the black market, today. But, in the late ’60s, if you knew who to ask, they could be found. This was a good thing because, for my family, the Fourth of July could not be properly celebrated without those maiming fireworks.
My family referred to it as “blowing up the relatives.” It was a family tradition. July 3 night, often close to midnight, my father would load, those siblings willing to go, into the car and head out. We would have a box of cherry bombs, my Dad’s flask and a punk stick which was used to light the fuse. We would approach our chosen relative’s home with our car’s lights off. One or two of us would exit the vehicle, creep up to the, usually open, bedroom window of an unsuspecting uncle, aunt, cousin or friend, light a cherry bomb or two and run away. The explosion was deafening.
The results of our nighttime bombings were a thing of family lore. Rumor had it that Great Aunt Ida lost control of her bladder, my Aunt Marie supposedly called the cops and asked if the Russians had attacked. My uncle Henry Tusignon reportedly jumped out of bed, put his false teeth in the pocket of his pajamas — ran out into his front yard to see what had exploded — slipped on the grass and bit himself in the butt.
We would judiciously choose beforehand who we were going to bomb. To capitalize on the element of surprise, seldom would someone get bombed two years in a row — except, to my great delight, my Godmother, Mary Ryan, who gave me cuff links for Christmas. One by one, as they got older, my senior siblings would excuse themselves from the family tradition. By the late ’60s, my early teens, it was just my father and me.
Independence Day of 1968 found me recovering from a ruptured appendix. I was only a few days out of the hospital on a heavy dose of antibiotics and ordered to stay in bed. I was devastated that I would be left behind since the previous two years I was often allowed to light the fuses. Despite my pleas my Mum told me that I’d be holding up the home front while my Dad went to battle alone.
I was fitfully sleeping when my old man entered the room and asked, “Can you walk to the car?” He took my hand as I, still in my PJs, headed by my protesting mother towards his Chrysler. I can’t remember who we blew up that night. I was relegated as a lookout while my Dad did the dirty work.
My mother would retell the story that by the time I got home I was delirious. I don’t remember that. What I do remember was being carried back to bed by my dad. He seemed to carry me effortlessly even though I must have weighed close to 100 pounds. He had his arm under my knees and I had mine around his neck. The scent of bourbon, sweat, cologne and gunpowder is easily recalled. It reminds me of the Fourth of July, it reminds me of freedom.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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