From my junior high years on my cousin Walt and I were well known on Fruit Ridge at least for our love of fireworks. As the summer moved closer to The 4th of July the urge to create loud noises and light up the sky with lots of colorful explosions would go from wanting to, needing to.
For a long period of time it was almost impossible to find any fire crackers or anything that would go bang. But some men would take the risk of buying them in Tennessee and sneak them back into Ohio. Yes we were buying them on the black market at that time. (Today you can go to a business and just by saying you are going to set them off out of Ohio all is legal.) I will point out though that at the time we were interested we purchased and set off fireworks that were much louder and more powerful in every way than those one can buy today.
Walt and I learned who was selling and who we could buy through so as not to get caught. Our folks let us shoot them but they would have skinned our hides if we had got caught buying them. (Double standard?) The inch and a half firecrackers would come 16 in a pack and we would buy a gross of packs in a bundle. These were for light use. We also bough bottle rockets that were one gross to a pack. These would begin to light up the sky. There was a firework called the whistling chaser. When lit they made a whistling sound and they would race in any direction they felt like and explode loudly at their ending. These were loud and suspenseful for the person lighting them. I know I set one of to impress my girlfriend (now my wife) and it turned on me and chased me up Fruit Ridge road. I tried to convince her it was all an act but am pretty sure she knew I was running for my life.
So far I have only mentioned the light firing fireworks. Bigger was the cherry bomb. A round red ball with a fuse on it and was about the width of a quarter. When it went off it was very loud. There were also larger and bigger rockets that would light up the skies and explode loudly. But the firework at the top was the M-80. This was really not sold in fireworks places but in hardware stores. They were used by farmers to keep critters away from their crops and were not only loud but strongly explosive. These were only handled with care. If not the loss of fingers would happen to say the least.
Now Walt and I had declared ourselves experts in the field of fireworks and explosives. For many years we lit up and deafened Fruit Ridge Road. For about the two weeks leading up to the 4th of July and maybe a day or two after late evenings and nights were filled with the smell of gun powder. Since we had spent all the money we had earned so far from working in hay and setting tobacco we felt every fuse lit was not to go to waste. We would look for and devise different ways to explode this entertainment so as to enhance their sounds and brightness. We found that dropping a lit one down a four foot long 2 inch pipe sent the sound out louder and dropping bottle rockets down them would sent them higher into the sky and at night it was cool to see. As Walts’ farm sat higher than mine did we would most times shoot them off from there. They had a metal corn crib and on these the concrete floor had a two inch drain pipe poured into the floor. Light and push a cherry bomb in there and we could probably shake the entire valley. (at least that was our goal.)
So as can be seen our neighborhood didn’t have to go looking for any fireworks displays such as was held each year at Coney Island. Just take your lawn chair out in the yard and watch us blow up the neighborhood with the hard earned money we had used to buy all this. Some might have even said we wasted our money. I’m certain that for the time we were in business the neighborhood was probably hoping we would run out sooner than we had expected so they could have their restful evenings back but that never happened.
It was safe to say though that while we were lighting the skies and exploding the barnyard everyone knew exactly where Walt and I were. Also as long as there was noise all around us all also knew we were still unharmed. I will say that we were pretty good at handling the rockets and firecrackers and especially the M-80s. These were so powerful that if one was packed into a concrete block that after the explosion the block was left in pieces no larger than 2 inches square. To a teenager that will give you a major feel of strength and power. Also you could light one and throw it into a pond and it would still explode. Just like a depth charge. Probably safe to say the fish and frogs hated us. Sometimes the feel of power we would have let us feel like we could take over a small country. Well maybe Point Isabel or String Town. At least we would feel that way momentarily.
As summer was entering into the midterm of its season I still can’t think of anything that was more fun or exciting to do. I know Walt and I felt that way and in later years some of our friends would come out to the farms to shoot off some firecrackers as we really had the best spot to carry out this activity. In looking back we did so safely and made sure we didn’t leave any live fireworks behind. To this day when summer reaches the midpoint I think back on the time Walt and I blew up the world and everyone was ok with it. That time was special.
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.