Two holidays (besides Christmas) hold great interest to us kids growing up. I am referring to July 4 and New Year. Bet ya can’t guess why?
“Fireworks,” you say?
Good guess. Explosive devices have magical charms for boys and probably a few girls, also. Nothing is more satisfying than a big bang and something being blown to smithereens. Yes, our parents allowed us to play with fireworks—unsupervised. Of course, prior to being released to go wreak havoc on the world, we got the usual lectures about the safe handling of fireworks followed by periodic reminders of their dangers via scare stories of some kid getting his fingers blown off. That barely slowed us down.
As kids we only had access to the usual over-the-counter verity of fireworks—oh but what fireworks they were. What you buy today pales in comparison to what we could get back in the fifties. I refer of course to the infamous, finger-removing M-80.
The M-80 was originally used by the military to simulate artillery fire (no. really its true), thus were way more potent than the run-of-the-mill Black Cat firecracker or even the more potent “Cherry bomb” or the similar in appearance “Silver King.” The only thing the Silver King and the M-80 shared was that both were small tubes of black powder about ¾” in diameter and 1.5’ long with the green fuse sticking out of the middle. The Silver King was silver, naturally, and the M-80 was colored a danger red. That’s because it contained more powder—and would take your finger off. The M-80 was said to contain 3 grams of black powder.
Today’s M-80 is a weak sister to its older brother thanks to government regulations and is not as potent as an old Silver King. That is because modern fireworks are limited to 50 milligrams of powder versus 200 mg or more before. Our M-80s more closely resembled a quarter stick of dynamite in explosive power—at least it seemed so to us—and evidently, also to the government.
We used the M-80’s potent explosive potential to blast all sorts of things into next week. Favorite targets were red ant hills, but you needed to get far away from the blast area or risk getting showered with a lot of only temporarily stunned red ants. When they recover from the blast, they are REALLY mad.
Once we built a mortar in the Lagasse’s key lot. The tube/barrel was some kind of pipe we found that empty beer cans fit in nicely. We stuck one end into the dirt and propped it up point skyward at about a 45 degree angle and dropped in a lit M-80 followed by a beer can—and BOOM—that can was sent to the other end of the key lot and almost to Williams Street. That lasted until our “mortar tube” succumbed to the potency of the M-80 and was blown apart. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
No problem. What can we blow up next?
Remember the old kitchen trash cans with the pop-open lid that opened by stepping on a little pedal on the base? Remember the removable can liners used in them? They were heavy gauge steel then—and great M-80 projectiles. Out on Sixth Street we lit an M-80 and dropped the can on top and hauled butt. BAM—that can was sent up above the tree tops, with kids scrambling in every direction to avoid the can’s re-entry into the atmosphere. A few more attempts at attaining orbit, and the can was a mangled mess that no longer fit in its outer shell. Re-entries were hard on the can—not to mention lift-off.
One of us got to go onto the ultimate explosive devices. Buck joined the Army, and they put him in combat engineers. He got to play with some really cool stuff like C-4 and det cord, which was a handy and quick way to cut down a tree. But Buck also got to play with the ultimate explosive device—nuclear weapons. No, I’m not kidding. He was in “atomic demolitions and munitions.” Only he never got to “light the fuse” on one, which is probably a good thing. He was stationed in Germany and when the “flag went up,” their job was to assemble some small nukes and blow bridges with them. They REALLY wanted those bridges to come down, didn’t they?
The rest of us were left to be content with ever more anemic government version M-80s and lecturing our kids on the safe handling of fireworks with periodic reminders of their dangers via scare stories of some kid getting his fingers blown off. As if…
One response to “The BIG Bang”
“You hold it – I’ll light it!” … You’d think anyone hearing that set of instructions would know to be wary, but nooooo … to this day, my sister thinks my brother and I intentionally didn’t tell her to toss the firecracker. It’s not as if she hadn’t been watching us do the ‘light-and-toss’ routine for about fifteen minutes.
Two fireworks episodes still stay with me – the first is about visiting the batture side of the levee at Audubon Park not far from Monkey Hill. We’d get there somewhere close to sunset with our ‘artillery’: Scads of the stick-type bottle rockets, about six of the tall ‘wasp-waisted’ Coke bottles that replaced (supplanted?) the original stubby little Coke bottle, and a lifetime supply of strike-anywhere matches.
We found our ‘perfect launch sites’ in the sand, scooped out a shallow launch angle for each bottle, wedged the bottle (launcher) into place, inserted the rockets, and waited for the barges – or ships – to come upriver. That’s when we’d strike the match, light the fuze, hear the Mighty ‘PFFFFT!’ and watch as the sparkly trail arced out o’er the Mighty Mississippi and flamed out about ten or twelve feet from the batture. Imagine the fear that we struck into the river pilots. Yeah, right – that’s what I think, too.
The second episode involved a New Year’s outing with my brother and first cousin. It was cold and dark, and we were walking around with pocketsful of fireworks that needed to be es’ploded. As luck would have it, we happened upon two things that – in our tiny minds – worked in conjunction with one another. The first was a discarded cardboard carpet tube. This one was short, perhaps three feet or so. The second was (wait for it … ) a frog. The ‘Ribbit!’ kind. It was a fortunate happenstance in our Hive Mind: Mister Frog was in need of transportation and we happened to have the means and methodology to provide same for him. We raised the carpet tube (no, don’t say ‘magic carpet,’ okay?), lit an M-80, dropped it down the tube and then dropped Mister Frog down to rest comfortably on top whilst he awaited transport. BLAM! POW! We failed to notice Mister Frog as he whizzed past us on his trip to somewhere better. Being curious ones, we looked to see if perhaps he was still in the tube. We didn’t see him, so we checked the bottom to make sure it hadn’t been damaged by the blast when we noticed some red wetness that indicated Mister Frog’s last known location on Planet Earth. Yes, Mister Frog had gone to Froggie Valhalla (‘FrogHalla’?) … but he went there in a shower of sparks and a mighty roar to let them know he was a-comin’ home … the tube, however, wasn’t able to provide any further transportation services that night …