Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

July 6, 2014

Aerial fireworks part of holiday tradition for some West Virginia families

— In pitch blackness, the fuse is lit. For a few seconds, a smattering of sparks is evident. Then, a moment of calm before the show. In an instant, a “whoosh” and an explosion. Above the forested landscape a kaleidoscope of red, white and green sparks erupt and dot the landscape with a rainbow of color formed in an Independence Day salute.

Happy Fourth of July. But, be forewarned. If caught in the act of this illegal, frowned-upon revelry, the fireworks could be seized and destroyed.

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I grew up in a family of law abiders. My parents never trespassed, or drove recklessly, or swiped a piece of bubble gum. In fact, the very act of paying property taxes late, resulting in one’s name being published in the legal notice section of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph, was a crime of embarrassment akin to a felony offense. I only recall it happening once while growing up. On that occasion, my grandmother took to her bedroom for a week, hiding her head in shame.

Yes, my family took pride in having a good name. But there was one day a year, one holiday, during which rules were broken and laws on the books were ignored.

We were fireworks outlaws, and on the Fourth of July we shunned fountains for the fun of aerial displays.

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During my early childhood years, it was rare that we were in town during the Fourth of July. Those whose dads were coal miners, like my own, were always vacationing at the beach.

Myrtle Beach was the closest ocean destination for those in the greater Bluefield area seeking a dose of sunshine, sand and swimming. Decades ago, mines would idle for a two-week period around the Fourth of July, a time known as “miners’ vacation.”

Only those who booked early were lucky enough to get a hotel room at Myrtle during this time period. Our family was there often, and I can remember the awe-inspiring sight of standing on a balcony and watching fireworks explode up and down the beach.

In the years that we weren’t at Myrtle Beach on the Fourth, we were at Hills Department Store watching the professional fireworks display. The parking lot at the store was always packed, as was the one at the old cinemas below the Hills plaza. On many holidays it wasn’t unusual to see cars parked for miles along Airport Road.

Eventually, Hills closed its doors and our Fourth of July celebrations moved to backyard barbecues.

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Through the years, a few family members became smitten with fireworks. Their goal was to produce a bigger and better backyard display each holiday. This goal manifested into an annual pilgrimage to a certain southern state where aerial fireworks were sold.

These fireworks were much more wow-inspiring than those purchased locally. And for years, our family enjoyed a private show at our rural country home. We never had any issues with safety, except for one close call many years ago.

It was late evening, and the clan had gathered and enjoyed a cookout. When it came time for the fireworks show we all gathered on the back porch. Unfortunately, our grandmother was bedridden, but we still wanted her to be able to watch the show. So we tucked Granny into a chair and carried her to a prime viewing spot. For half an hour, the many generations of our family “oohed” and “aahed” at the fireworks. Granny, snug as a bug under a blanket, was also impressed with the show.

Nearing the finale, a family member lit the fuse on a firework that was supposed to launch up in the air and explode. Instead it fell on its side, and launched horizontally — straight toward Grandma. The firework traveled at an incredible speed, but we were almost as fast as we rushed to save her from the exploding rocket.

Fortunately, the rocket landed under Granny’s chair and not on her. And, for some miraculous reason, it did not explode; fizzling out on the concrete instead.

Nowadays, the incident is one of those funny, family memories. But that’s how it goes. It’s all giggles and chuckles until Grandma’s blanket erupts in a red, white and blue explosion of holiday cheer.

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Despite the near tragedy of years ago, I like to think Granny would be a supporter of legalizing the “good fireworks” — the ones currently available in some states, where West Virginians go to stock up on arsenals for the Fourth of July.

Currently, a move is afoot in the state Legislature to make such fireworks legal in the Mountain State, with funds generated by the sales to be used to help support the state’s fire departments and the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

“People have been doing it in West Virginia for years,” said Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, who has introduced bills to legalize such fireworks. “It’s already being done — why not make some money off of it?”

Why not? In a state where drug use and its ancillary crimes — burglary, larceny, armed robbery — are prevalent, do we really need to crackdown on fireworks?

Let’s loosen the hold on revelry and work toward capturing true criminals. How about making money off fireworks while letting our residents celebrate the holiday as it should be, with “pomp ... and illuminations.”

Samantha Perry is editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at sperry@bdtonline.com. Follow her @BDTPerry.

 

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