It Dawned on Me: The gang (of fireworks stand bandits) is all here
By Dawn De Busk
Some of my favorite Fourth of July memories are when my Aunt Loretta and my cousins Todd and Troy would come to visit my family in North Kenai, Alaska.
Back then, in the ‘70s, the fireworks regulations were fairly lax and hand-built fireworks stands popped up along the road sides like lupine or fireweed.
About a decade later, some legislation was passed which allowed for a monopoly on fireworks sales. The law designated one place south of Fairbanks and north of Anchorage where fireworks were sold. That place was Gorilla Fireworks in Wasilla, right off the George Parks Highway where no one could miss it.
On Independence Day, Gorilla Fireworks is open 24 hours, and the operation is open year-round. The business offers “bush orders” for those people in too isolated of a region to make the trip to Wasilla.
Anyhow — long before Alaskans had to travel hundreds of miles to get their fireworks fix — there were temporary fireworks stands in every little community, including mine.
One smart entrepreneur set up the pyrotechnics stop-and-shop right across from the local grocery store in our hometown.
I remember all of us were sitting in the car staring at the goods: the fountains that were as tall as a toddler, the round containers that displayed a drawing of the parachute that would unfold and fall from the sky, the coiled black snakes that we children were allowed to light on our own.
That’s when my aunt shared with us what I thought was the best idea. She said we should all put bandanas over our faces and tell the attendants to get out of the booth and move away from the stand. Then, she would ignite the entire fireworks stand and we could stand back and watch the show.
At age 10 or 11, my aunt’s off-the-wall suggestion seemed like a fun and fabulous thing to do. We would be the fireworks stand bandits, a gang travelling from stand to stand, detonating the colorful and the noisy all at once.
The fact that it was an entirely unsafe (and illegal) activity did not enter my young mind.
Later that night, everyone got a scare when my younger brother and my cousin tossed some firecrackers into the fire pit by the lake. No one knew which way to run. My mom thought nails were shooting at us, from some building materials that had been tossed into the fire. It was the two boys who had made the mistake of thinking that firecrackers in the fire might be funny. But, it was all of us children who heard the long lecture on safety.
Another time, my brother was using matches to light a few fireworks and he was about 12 feet from our 500-gallon gasoline tank. I think that some gas had spilled on the ground. From her viewpoint in the kitchen, my mother looked and started shouting for my brother to run because the ground had caught fire. Luckily, the gas fumes burnt off as quickly as it started and my sibling was out of harm’s way.
(Perhaps, it was incidents like those that concerned lawmakers who decided to limit and control fireworks purchases.)
However, other than those two times, my parents always oversaw the lighting and igniting of fireworks. Even sparklers were done under supervision.
The daydream of being a fireworks stand bandit stuck in my mind with so much detail. What a gang that would have been. Not!
Mainers are more lucky than Alaskans when it comes to being able to view fireworks displays. In Alaska, the July sun stays up late and there is only a short period of darkness where pricier fountains and skyward displays can be seen.
Fourth of July with our cousins was about staying up really, really late like past midnight. Independence Day was about being the first person to grab the parachute that fluttered down like a moth with wing damage. It was about jumping off the dock, swimming or taking the boats across the lake not just once, but multiple times. It was about eating an abundance of food at various times throughout the day. The Fourth was one of the few times we were allowed to drink soda pop instead of Kool-Aid or Tang. Rarely were we able to finish a whole can. The carbonated Coke or 7UP was a huge treat we associated with holidays.
Come to think of it, celebrating the holiday today is not much different that it was in the 1970s. The Fourth of July is about families getting together at a time when children are out of school and adults are off work. There is a special feeling that comes with having a house full of people who are related to you. As children, there is nothing better than the promise of an exciting day and the chance to stay up past bedtime. As adults, the exciting days, late nights and fantastical fireworks probably still rate high on the scale of July 4th favorites.