Kenneth Burns: I’m getting way too old to shoot fireworks

Jun. 30, 2013 @ 02:19 PM

When I was a kid, given the opportunity I would have shot fireworks all day, every day. Seriously.

I’m glad I didn’t have the opportunity.

Kids enjoy taking risks. There’s probably a biological explanation for that. They like thrills, danger. I was reminded of this when I visited Dollywood a few weeks ago. As I waited to ride intense roller coasters like Wild Eagle and Thunderhead, I noticed that most of the people around me were in their teens. Or younger.

At shows like “Dreamland Drive-In,” meanwhile, I noticed that many people around me were in their 50s or older. At 42, I seem to be at a magical age: Old enough to truly appreciate singing and dancing at a theme park, young enough to happily scream my head off on a thrill ride. Maybe there’s a biological explanation for this, too.

Still, as I veer headlong into my very early mid-40s, I’m getting risk averse. You won’t catch me riding in a hot-air balloon, or parachuting out of a plane. Ziplines make me nervous. I even worry about getting on a ladder to clean the gutters.

And I’m not going anywhere near fireworks. I do not want to hold explosives in my hand.

But I understand the appeal of blowing things up real good.

You may recall that years ago, on the sketch comedy show “SCTV,” there were characters who got excited when stuff “blowed up real good.” I think of them every year around this time.

My family never bought fireworks when I was little. But our next-door neighbors in Nashville, the Warners, did, every July 4. I loved waving sparklers around in the Warners’ backyard. I loved watching as Mr. Warner lit Roman candles and Catherine wheels, then ran the heck away.

There was a funny moment when one of the Warner kids, Kevin, had his mother hold up a sparkler so that she looked like the Statue of Liberty. He declared her the Statue of ... Mama! I still laugh when I tell this story. You probably had to be there.

There was another funny moment when, in the explosive spirit of July 4, someone cruelly put something in Mrs. Warner’s cigarette that made it blow up real good when she lit it.

It’s probably just as well that along with smoking, this tradition is fading away.

When I was slightly older, the Warner kids taught me the simple pleasure of using small firecrackers to blow up Coke cans real good. Placed a certain way, a firecracker will make a can sail high in the air.

And that was it for me and setting off fireworks.

I take that back. There was the time some high school friends and I passed an afternoon throwing lit bottle rockets at each other. I look back on that as one of the most idiotic things I’ve ever done. Which is saying something.

It’s true that I still get a little thrill when I see fireworks tents popping up in early summer. But there came a time when I began to view consumer fireworks as a nuisance.

That moment occurred when I lived in Chicago, in my 20s. Every Independence Day, my neighborhood was like a war zone. Urban density and kids with fireworks aren’t a good combination. Smart people fled the city on July 4. I considered hiding under the bed.

These days, when I want fireworks, I want the real thing. I want large-scale pyrotechnics shows, staged by competent professionals.

These are wonderful. I still fondly recall the glorious fireworks at the 1982 World’s Fair in Knoxville. That’s the kind of thing I want to see.

I don’t plan to light any fireworks, ever again.

Okay, maybe I’ll wave a sparkler around in the backyard.

– Kenneth Burns is Community News Editor of The Mountain Press. Call 428-0748, ext. 212, or send e-mail to Twitter: @KennethBurns.