Rockets’ Red Glare

By Susan DeLay


Sparklers are the appetizer to the 4th of July’s main meal—fireworks. My brother, sister, and I weren’t allowed to wave sparklers in the air like fire batons until we were about 10 years old and mature enough to handle matches​ and metal sticks dipped in gunpowder. Yikes.

Times have changed.

Beware the Sparkler

Today, any parent who lets his or her child get away with that kind of sparkler-waving behavior might be brought up on charges of child endangerment. Back then, no one knew any better. Kids were prohibited only from playing with aerial fireworks and rockets larger than one-half inch in diameter.

Everything else? Well, that was child’s play.

Sparklers now come with a list of warnings that make me wonder if they should be handled only by firemen and people wearing hazmat gear.

  • Don’t touch a wire if it smells like a recently fired pistol because to do so might cause some discomfort. (Not to mention permanent scarring.)
  • You may wave a sparker in front of you as long as you’re wearing eye protection and you don’t hit other people or objects. (Setting someone on fire could really put a damper on a holiday.)
  • Never poke a lit sparkler in your eye or let it touch your face. (Personally, I think it might be wise to avoid touching any body part with a sparkler while it is on fire.)
  • Under no circumstances should young children be allowed to touch, hold or throw a sparkler. (Apparently, it’s okay for an adult to throw one.)
  • Never, ever, ever ignite a sparkler in the vicinity of highly flammable materials, like, say, hair spray, nail polish, alcohol, or gasoline. (That’s an automatic invitation to the EMS to join your party.)


Bombs Bursting in Air

When it comes to the 4th of July, our forefathers clearly took a cue from our national anthem. Lyrics like rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air imply that to celebrate our country’s birthday without explosions is treason.

Heaven forbid.

Fireworks gave me nightmares until I was well past voting age. At dusk, our parents loaded us into the station wagon—a precursor to the minivan—and away we’d go to the nearest pyrotechnic show.

I’m sure the displays were breathtaking, but all I recall is loud explosions that were way too close for comfort. As a fourth grader, I wondered what possible reason my parents had for driving the family into a war zone and then applauding the bombing. While everyone else ooohed and aahed, our Cocker Spaniel and I cowered in the back of the car with our heads buried under a blanket. I plugged my ears, cried, and trembled in terror at every blast. I prayed. “God, if you get me out of this alive, I will never pick another fight with my brother or sister, and I will eat every vegetable on my plate. Even the cooked carrots.”


Oh, Say Can You See?

It took years, but I, more or less, conquered my fear of fireworks and can now observe a nighttime display without earplugs, a bulletproof vest, and a priest standing by to administer Last Rites.

These days when someone asks, “Oh, say can you see?” I can answer, “Yes, I can.”

But from a distance, thank you.

DeLay-Susan HeadshotSusan DeLay is from the Buckeye State where she took her first paying job at the age of 15, writing a newspaper column called Teen Talk. She lived in the Chicagoland area for 20-some years before giving away her shovel and ice scraper and moving to The Villages.

An industry veteran in publishing services, PR, and media relations, Susan wrote “DeLayed Reaction,” a newspaper column, for 25 years. The column is now a blog at www.susandelay.wordpress.com.

She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, The Florida Writers Association, Pen, Paper & Pals, The Writers League of the Villages, and Working Writers Critique Group. She is currently learning that poems don’t have to rhyme and is working on a novel entitled “Saving Jesus.”

4 thoughts on “Rockets’ Red Glare”

  1. Next to fireworks should be a phrase, “expect unintended consequences.”
    I know, because I recall dozens.
    A friend lit an M-80 firecracker inside the backseat of a car. Once lit, the fuse cannot be stopped. The plan was to throw it out the window onto lawns in town (we were country kids). The window was closed!! He ducked for cover. In the emergency room they dug a plastic plug embedded in a butt cheek, not sure which one.
    Be careful out there.

  2. Alvin M Stenzel

    Loved the memories of July 4th fireworks (and sparklers). My father was a fireworks enthusiast (and a volunteer firefighter early in his life). My family had the same experience for July 4 fireworks. We had to be the first ones there and because of parking, always the last to leave. It was a five hour journey for 10-15 minutes of awe. I think it was worth it. I sat on the Washington Capitol steps one year for many hours to see the Mall fireworks. It was about 90 degrees and the steps were HOT! It was miserable, and I wouldn’t do it again, but it was worth it once to say I’d done it. I found better viewing points afterwards. My father bought fireworks as strong as were legal, and we were usually at the beach (family home on the beach in Kitty Hawk, NC since 1967). If the wind was toward the water, we had our own display. Made my mother very nervous. Luckily, we never had a problem. These days, I watch the Wildwood fireworks from the Pinellas Library parking lot. Easy parking, and pretty good visuals. Not overwhelming, but satisfying. Thanks for the wonderful memories of my parents and my childhood.

  3. Susan, you always brand your writing with humorous metaphors and reminiscing. I especially like your bargain with God to even eat cooked carrots if only you’d get away from the “bombs bursting in air” alive! (That begs the question: Did you keep your end of the bargain?) You did your cocker spaniel proud by cowering in the back seat with him during explosive events. Your comment that a 4th of July without explosions being tantamount to treason is really funny too! I always enjoy what you write! Thanks!

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