Fourth of July at my house was a drunken blast!
Great Rocket Day, this was what we should have called the holiday in the valley. A drunken contest to see which family could buy the best illegal fireworks and shoot them all off before the lone state police car drove into the neighborhood looking for the rowdiest party to crash. Ah, those were the good old days.
We had our retailer already marked on the list, as he would go into his dark back room of the knickknack store and bring out his secret stash that he did not have a license to sell. He had the good stuff, but not the greatest. (One family had the right connections, and they shot off pyrotechnics normally seen at public functions like air shows or rock concerts.) Of course, on every radio station or tv ad featuring fireworks, we would hear the same warning: Fireworks are illegal within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Anyone transporting or selling such items will incur the full penalties of the law. But everyone in the valley already knew that there was no such thing as ‘commonwealth.’ If there were such a thing, then everybody in this State would be living in mansions and smoking Cuban cigars and burning money for pleasure. Wealth would never have a common denominator within the differing income brackets of society. So we never took these warnings to heart. Allow the common people to have a little fun from the drudgery of unfulfilling jobs, why don’t cha?
Anyway, obtaining the fireworks was easy. Finding something to use to shoot them off was the hard part. With our father’s wallet hidden away for any purchase of building supplies, we were left to our imaginations to construct the perfect apparatus.
Well, the easiest thing to do was to just poke the stick of the rocket into the ground and light the wick. Yet sticks tend to break when pushed into hard soil, or they will unexpectedly lean over at the last minute aiming toward the old holding tank used to store heating oil for the furnace during the winter months. Take that much flammable liquid and that many misfired rockets, and even us kids were not stupid enough to take the chance. No, our homemade rocket launcher had to be made with the outmost care and consideration.
Bricks . . . and empty beer bottles.
These were perfect. We could stack the bricks to get the right angle into the air, and lean the beer bottles against the bricks with the rocket sticks stuck inside. And we had plenty of these building materials handy from the brick floor in the greenhouse.
Getting the beer bottles was just as easy.
Our father/the Genesee Man. He had two cases of beer stacked inside the refrigerator on the porch. The only problem was that the bottles were full of a liquid substance, and our father was working a double shift at the mill.
"Mom! We need you to make sauerkraut for dinner!"
"But you kids don’t like sauerkraut." Our mom would say in the kitchen.
"Dad likes sauerkraut. You like sauerkraut. Make sauerkraut!" Our whines screeched in a oh-you-are-killing-us-with-logic plea.
"Fine. Get me a bottle of beer." Our plan had worked. She would make the stinky cabbage using beer as we carried in eight bottles.
"I only need one bottle."
"But we need them for our rockets." My siblings and I were good at whining.
She considered this compromise. Then she lowered the number to a condition we were happy to oblige. "Four bottles. I will use one for the sauerkraut. We will split the other three among all of us."
So, as promised, she made sauerkraut with one bottle gone and three more to go. Our mom drank one, to her distaste since she preferred hard liquor. My older sister drank one, but she was in her late teens and was already drinking alcohol at friends’ parties. So it was not that big a deal (do not act as if this doesn’t go on at teen parties, folks - remember your own naughty teenage years.) The last bottle I split with my older brother, not our first experience with alcohol since our mom would fix us hot toddies made with rum and spices and milk whenever we had bad colds. It would put us straight to sleep at night.
Giddy with the drinks we downed, and nauseous from the smell of sauerkraut (or maybe because of the drinks we downed), we headed outside with our empty bottles. When night fell, we filled the air over our house with star bursts and screamers and those colorful fireworks that would make pretty pictures hanging in the sky.
A fine time we kids had for Great Rocket Day! And it always seemed that those fireworks were so much brighter than normal, and that we had bought so many more than what we actually fired off.
Disclaimer: You know what I am going to say. I do not recommend anyone to allow their children to do any of the things I have mentioned in my story. Don’t let your kids drink alcohol. Don’t let your children shoot off fireworks while unattended. Don’t cook the smelly sauerkraut using more than one beer.