Star-Spangled Me | Mark Lindsay

Once, when I was ten, I lit a sparkler right in the middle of our living room. This, of course, was a mistake, something a pubescent boy is predisposed to make. It caused quite a stir as the acrid, metallic smoke filled the small room. While I only pulled this stunt but once, mostly because of all the yelling, I can still smell sparkler smoke as I write this. That—and the sulfur smell of real fireworks—always reminds me of July 4th. Smells evoke memories like nothing else.

Sparklers were the only fireworks that individuals were allowed to possess in our state back then. Most of the boys on our block sneered at them, considered them only appropriate for babies. Maybe they were but there were always about five or six kids (not babies) that got burned by expired sparklers. The exposed wire stayed hot for five minutes or so, something most kids only learned after about three burning incidents. Sparklers were more dangerous than we thought back then. But, in those days we didn't wear helmets while bike riding, nor seat belts in the car, and most of the women smoked and drank while pregnant. And we were actually permitted to go wherever we wanted to on our bikes as long as it wasn't dark. Sparklers were just the glittery part of living on the edge.

The Fourth of July was always the high point of summer. The dark memories of the last school year had long faded and the ominous anticipation of the new school year still seemed way in the future. We were suspended in a time warp, aimless and lazy. Days were long. We had ice-cold Cokes that came in those thick, seven-ounce bottles and Good Humor ice-cream bars coated in red, white, and blue coconut.

I'm now three thousand miles and forty-four years from my living-room-sparkler incident. Yet, I still marvel at how people seem to enjoy the goofy, small things of July 4th. Everyone seems happy to be silly. Last year some woman dressed as Uncle Sam (on stilts) pranced around for hours before, during, and after the parade. Like an advertisement for patriotic Prozac, she seemed to float above the hectic world around her. Too bad sparklers are illegal these days. A lit one in each hand would have added a little something to her choreography.