Why Fireworks and Kids Don’t Mix

Have you ever started to do something and a tiny voice in the back of your head said:

“This, my friend, is a bad idea.”

This is the thought I ignored on a hot day in August back in 1994. My Dad loves two things (well three if you count salt water taffy) but two that are relevant for this story: RVs and fireworks. These do not mix well, especially when you have a family of six. However, this does not dissuade my father from trying. During a few summers growing up my Dad rented a monstrous RV convinced my mom it would be a great way to spend some quality family time together (Mom—Why did you keep saying yes?!).

The fundamental problem with RV’s is that you have to stay in RV parks. Now, I have nothing against RV parks, but there are some problems that consistently arise:

1)    When someone groans, rocks the bed springs or farts in any RV within 50 feet of you—which could potentially be up to 20 other RV’s, you WILL hear it. Not only are the ‘walls’ of your ‘home’ thin, but you have to leave all of your windows open because it is usually blistering hot.

2)    You are in charge of hooking up and unplugging the bathroom poop tube every time you come in and out. I don’t care how nice of an RV park you are staying in, hooking up the poop tube NEVER, EVER put my Dad in a good mood or in a good scent.

3)    Showers require you to choose between two kinds of hell. First, you can bang your elbows, knees, arms, and head on every ledge in your tiny metal bathroom while trying to splash plastic smelling water on your sweaty pits. Or, you can trudge through the RV park in your bathrobe, shower shoes and shampoo caddy only to wait in line for a rusted spigot that blasts water at unpredictable temperatures at you while you try to avoid the lizards attempting to get clean with you. This invariably involves a slippery walk back to the sound of catcalls and mosquitoes in your hair.

Despite these challenges, my Dad felt (I believe still feels) that the benefits of RVing outweigh the negatives. On one of the particularly hot summers, as we were traveling through Yellowstone National Park, my dad saw a rickety old stand with a large sloppily hand painted (or foot painted) sign announcing ‘Cheap Fireworks.’ Along with my mother, I could see giddy delight in my Dad’s eyes as he turned off the cruise control and began to merge right. My mom interrupted his plan:

“Absolutely not, Vance. I do not want to be caught with those things across the border.”

She knew, as did my Dad, that fireworks stands love to set-up right across the border in states where fireworks are legal so that people from states where they are illegal can easily drive and pick some up. We were headed to spend the night in a state where fireworks were definitely not legal.

“Oh we will just get a few sparklers! Fun for the kids,” My said, continuing to pull off the highway.

I looked at the rest of the so-called kids: my brother, my four year-old sister and the baby. My brother was looking like the only one who would enjoy this trip. Inside the store (my Dad convinced my mom to stay out with my younger sisters) my Dad stocked up. We bought way way more than sparklers—cherry bombs, blasting disco balls, fuzzy pirates, fireballs. My dad told us to put some in our pockets so the bags would look smaller as we climbed back onto the RV. Then he instructed us to, “Put them up on Robert’s bed so Mom wouldn’t find them.” (My brother slept above the driver’s seat and this was way to high for my mom.) “And don’t mention them again to Mom!” He added slightly.

This was when I had that thought: “This, my friend, is a bad idea.” I think I might have said something to the sort, but my dad waved his hand and insisted I was a ‘scardy cat.’ Yes, my Dad called me a ‘scardy cat.’ A few hours later (after he had hooked up the poop tube at our next stop), after mac and cheese dinner and after the 2 hour shower trip we were ready for bed. My Dad winked at us and told us he would get us after Mom went to sleep. The thought came up again.

An hour later the three of us snuck out of bed, quietly grabbed our fireworks bags and crept through the RV park looking for a good ‘spot’ to light them. Now, lets think about this together. How could we have possibly found a good spot in a crowded RV park where everyone’s windows are open and fireworks are illegal? In addition we were surrounded by forest—as in flammable, protected forest. After stumbling around in the dark for 30 minutes (no one remembered to bring a flash light because that is a Mom kind of thing to remind us of and she was sleeping), we finally stumbled upon a wooden bridge.

“Here!” My Dad exclaimed, “This is the perfect spot.”

I looked at him in horror (even at 10 I thought this was a very bad idea).

“Dad, we are on a wooden bridge. In the middle of a protected forest. 8 yards away from the RV park.”

He started to unload the fireworks. “Bah. We are over water.” He gestured widely to the half a foot deep creek below our feet.

“I couldn’t even wash a tissue in that creek it is so shallow.” I said watching my brother set-up his whirling fireplace.

My Dad continued, un-phased by my worries. “Ok, lets set them all up along the bridge and then light them at the same time so we can run back right after there are done before anyone catches us. Besides, I am less worried about the police and more worried about Mom and she is half way across the park.”

My brother and I nodded, agreeing that my Mom packs more of a punch than any policeman. 10 minutes later the fireworks were all lined up, the fuses were laid out and lighter was in hand. I slowly backed away from the bridge and insisted on giving the honor of lighting the fuses to my brother and Dad.

“Ok as soon as they go off we watch and as the fizzle out run back towards the RV. But be sure to split up and take different routes home so no one suspects us.”

This made sense at the time because it hadn’t occurred to me that three people sprinting through camp away from blasting fireworks carrying lighters wouldn’t be suspicious at all. Sure enough the lit fuses crept and bounced along the bridge and slowly began setting off their targets. Orange, purple and green sparks shot out from all directions. All of a sudden one of the shooting Dandy’s went cock-eyed and blasted into a nearby tree. My Dad shouted an expletive–another exciting thing to add to the list that night for a ten year-old and (thank god) fizzled out before the entire forest caught on fire.

As the last disco ball exploded and lights began to turn on in the RV’s a few yards away my Dad yelled “Run!”

I have never run so fast in my entire life. When we slammed ourselves back into the RV, the whole unit rocked back and forth and my mom stood standing at the ‘kitchen’ (really just a small counter with a microwave on it). We froze as the RV rocked and my little sister started to wake-up. Then my mom said,

“This, my friend, was a bad idea.”



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