July 4th: A Daddy-o Story

July 3, 2015


“I won’t be gone long,” Daddy assures Mama. “I just want to pick up a few sparklers, maybe a coupla Black Cats, nothing big.”

“Only a couple of Black Cats,” Mama says, giving him the fish eye. “The girls are too young for explosives, Ronald. Those things will scare them to death. Sparklers are fine.”

Daddy pulls a face. “Jesus, Mary, it’s not ex-plo-sives. It’s just fireworks. It’s good fun. When I was their age, I was lighting Bottle Rockets in the backyard by myself.”

“Proof of the quality of your upbringing.”

“I’ll be back soon,” he says, riffling around for the car keys.

“Oh, no,” Mama says. “You’re bringing those girls with you. I’ve got floors to mop and I don’t need them underfoot, so skeedaddle.” She grabs a large bucket from under the sink. “Plus, they’ll keep you honest. Just keep looking at them and remember how small they are.”

“Jesus. Okay.” Daddy harumphs a little, and from the stairwell, where I’m sitting eavesdropping, I can tell that he wasn’t counting on two little chaperones on this errand.

“Girls!” Daddy hollers. “Get down here. You’re going with me.”

I’ve already launched downstairs, in search of shoes, but I hear a groan from my sister’s room. “I’m busy!”

“Get down here!” he counters. “Now.”

“Garg!” My sister flings her bedroom door open and thonks down the stairs with heavy, moody feet.

Daddy rolls his eyes and shoots me a look. I think I’m going to laugh but she’ll kill me if I laugh so I dig my fingernail deep into the mosquito bite on my earlobe. What kind of weirdo gets a mosquito bite on her ear? It itches like wildfire.

We climb into our brazenly orange TravelAll–the tangerine behemoth that Mama still hasn’t forgiven Daddy for–and he whistles as he turns the key in the ignition.

“Your mother,” he says, as we back out of the driveway. “She doesn’t understand the 4th of July. It’s fun. It’s good, clean fun and when I was a kid, we’d stockpile our fireworks into one big heap–all the kids on the block–this big old mountain of Black Cats and Cherry Bombs and Bottle Rockets, and fire them off for the entire week. We’d take ’em down to the train tracks, matchbooks spilling out of our pockets, and blast the bejeezus out of the place. It was great.”

“Mama says that’s a good way to lose a finger,” I pipe up from the back seat.

“Aww, Hell!” Daddy says. “I’ve been lighting crackers since I was barely able to walk and look…” he waves a hand in the air. “Fingers still attached.”

My sister sighs and looks out the window.

“Your mother, she worries too much. Ruins all the fun. I love the 4th of July. Parades, watermelon eating contests, burgers on the barbecue, fireworks in the sky. Can it get any better?”

There are several firework stands to choose from, but Daddy keeps driving until he finds the biggest one. “Some of these stands are pathetic,” he scoffs.

The biggest firework stand is actually a pavillion, tent-like structure with streamers decorating the entryway. The placard reads: Honest John’s Fireworks! Start Your 4th of July With a Bang!

Daddy grins so wide he looks about ten years old. “Yeah. This is the place.” We hustle out of the orange beast.

We haven’t taken two steps into the pavillion before we’re assaulted by a ridiculously tall, emaciated man dressed up like Uncle Sam. He’s sweating like gangbusters. I eye his blue and white striped pants. Is that velour? In summertime? His white wig is slightly askew and his eyes bug out like a gekko. He reeks of cigarettes.

“Hello, sir!” Uncle Sam says, and shakes Daddy’s hand with manic verve. “Honest John, that’s my name and welcomewelcome.” He slaps Daddy on the back. “Lemme show you around. We’ve got lotsa terrific stuff, here.” He spies my sister and me and crouches down a little. I can see his nosehairs sticking out. His wife should take care of that.

“Hello, little darlin’s! Ain’t you pretty?” he says, extending his hand for a shake. I shake his hand even though I don’t want to but Mama says she’ll skin me alive if I forget to be “gracious,” so I shake. My sister turns her back and heads outside to the picnic table up front.

He slaps Daddy on the back again and we head into the store. “Little girls, such a blessing,” Honest John says. “You’re a lucky man. Boys, they leave you in the dust but little girls? They’re yours forever.”

I’m pretty sure Daddy’s not listening. He’s looking at the racks and bins and barrels of fireworks and his eyes glaze over a little.

“This reminds me of when I was a kid,” Daddy says, eyeing the display.

“That’s exactly right,” Honest John bleats, showing a rack of nicotine-stained teeth. “Miles of fun right here. That’s what the 4th of July is about.” And then he leans forward and says in a hushed, secretive voice, “You know, sir, that this is the last year for fireworks in this state.”

Daddy’s face falls. “What? Seriously?”

“God’s truth,” Honest John says solemnly. “I love this great nation but I don’t know what those politicians are thinking, outlawing fireworks, and this is the last year you’ll be able to get ’em. Last year, I tell ya.”

He shoots a wink at me and ruffles my hair and I hate it when people do that but I keep quiet and gracious.

“It’s lucky though, you found out,” Honest John says. “You can give your little ladies the best–and last–4th of July of a lifetime. Give ’em one they’ll never forget, Pop.”

“Pop?”  Who calls people that? But Daddy doesn’t seem to mind. He’s too busy coralling a cart and shoving fistfuls of Cherry Bombs, Bottle Rockets, Smoke Grenades, Black Cats…everything…into the cart.

“Outlawing fireworks, that’s just baloney,” Daddy mutters under his breath, scooping up a very large explosive called a Screaming Eagle. “Nobody lets anybody have any fun any more, I tell you. But you know what? We’re going to have fun this year, dammit.” He’s so agitated that he doesn’t even give me the guilty look for cussing.

Daddy forks over several hundred dollars to Honest John at the checkout.

“It stings, I know, but you won’t be sorry,” Honest John assures him. “Last year. Last year, for any of this.”

Mama takes one look at Daddy, enormous box in hand, and she orbits.

“Ronald! Whaaaaa?! What have you done? For God’s sake!” She snatches the reciept out of the box. “That’s our entire shoe budget for Fall–what am I supposed to put on those girls’ feet in September? Where’s that money going to come from–out of thin air?” She huffs around the kitchen, slamming silverware into drawers.

Daddy looks hangdog sheepish and he gives his trademark shrug. “Mary, what could I do? He said it was the last year. Ever.”

Mama skewers him with a look. “A guy dressed up like Uncle Sam gave you his word.”

“Hey,” Daddy sputters. “His name was Honest John!”

“Honest John, my fat fanny,” Mama says, still slamming. She closes her eyes and inhales sharply, several times. She opens her eyes, looks hard at Daddy. After a few seconds, her face starts to wilt. “Lordy.” She shakes her head. “What are you? Just a big old kid.”

Daddy tries to look forlorn but his mouth twitches. He’s out of the weeds and he knows it.

He makes gin and tonics for both of them and they sit on the porch. “You’re a piece of work, Ronald,” she says.

Later, we head out to the city dump–Daddy insists it’s the safest place to let off our bounty. “No little kids around or anything and we won’t bother anyone with the noise. No dogs barking, either.”

I’m not so sure about hanging out at the city dump, but Daddy’s enthusiasm is contagious. He opens the back of the Travelall and we crack root beers and toast to America.

I decline sparklers. I don’t like the way they crackle and spit. For some reason, sparklers scare me more than any Black Cat, but my sister twirls hers in the air like Tinkerbell. Daddy shoots off firecrackers that explode and then transform into little parachutes, which catch the air and fall gently to the ground. I’m smitten, and I beg him to light off more, scampering through the debris to catch the parachutes as they sway down.

Black Cats pop and Bottle Rockets shoot. My sister dances with sparklers and I swat mosquitoes and Mama laughs, in spite of herself.

“Screaming Eagle, coming up!” Daddy announces. Mama, my sister and I return to the hatchback of the TravelAll, eyes glued to the sky.

The Screaming Eagle is so hideously loud that I have to cover my ears, and whenever I cover my ears I have to shut my eyes for some weirdo reason, so I miss the best of the excitement.

“HolyShitJesus!” Daddy yells.

“Ronald!?!” Mama gasps, mouth agape.

I open my eyes and see smoke. And flames. Daddy and his Screaming Eagle have set the dump on fire. And it’s a doozy.

“What. Now. Ronald?” Mama asks, and from the way she says it, I know Daddy’s in big trouble.

“Mary, I’ll handle it,” Daddy says, holding up a hand to pacify. He thinks for a minute, nostrils flaring. And  then he does what any reasonable and responsible adult would do.

He barks at us to “get the Hell in the car,” screeches the orange monster out of the dump and ricochets around until he spies a pay phone. He makes an anonymous call to the fire department.

Because can you believe it?  Some nitwit has set the dump on  fire.


{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

Tiffany July 4, 2013 at 6:01 am

This makes me love your Dad even more!!


Kristen @ Motherese July 4, 2013 at 9:05 am

I would like you to know that I have a mosquito bite on my earlobe at this very moment. Weirdo #1, meet your friend, Weirdo #2.

Loved your story and your storytelling, as always. (Did you happen to notice all the signs on the highways in Massachusetts declaring that fireworks are illegal statewide? Be sure to keep Daddy away lest he become too depressed.)



TKW July 4, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Hi Weirdo #2,

Have you ever gotten a mosquito bite on the top of your foot? Itches like a mother. Worse than the ear. I tell hubs that mosquitoes love me because they get one pull of my blood and alert the others, “Dudes, this lady is happy hour!”


pamela July 4, 2013 at 9:33 am

LOVE THIS. You have the best stories. Please be writing a memoir.



Shannon July 4, 2013 at 9:55 am

Oh my God. Our fathers would be best friends. I love this story more than I can say with words. Happy 4th!


Rudri Bhatt Patel @ Being Rudri July 4, 2013 at 10:19 am


Loved this story. For so many reasons. Your Daddy-O stories always hit me in the heart.


Lisa @ The Meaning of Me July 4, 2013 at 11:25 am

That is a classic.


Katybeth July 4, 2013 at 3:28 pm

What a great story. Frugal Joe use to take Cole to a place like that every year and drop a couple hundred dollars. I was aghast and amused. Tonight our alleys will look like a war zone and it will be way past midnight before I can let my pups out….My neighborhood is filled with cops and fireman and they are the worst!
Now for the burning question…was Honest Abe there the next year, too?


TKW July 4, 2013 at 6:20 pm


He wasn’t, but fireworks were all over the place. Legally. :) Happy 4th, my sweet friend.


TKW's Dad July 4, 2013 at 4:54 pm

Ah, the memories! This was good, but when Daddy-o was a young boy, the family always went down from Chicago to Central Illinois, around Quincy to visit the Grandparents and Aunts and Uncles for the 4th. My favorite place to stay was with one of my Aunts and Uncles that lived on a corner in Quincy across the street from a bar. We would go across the river to Missouri for fireworks because they were much better than the ones you could buy in Illinois. We would load up on cherry bombs, silver salutes, torpedoes, 2 inchers, 4 inchers, five inchers and the mandatory bottle rockets. Loved waiting until about 10 at night when the patrons of the bar would start to come stumbling out and my Uncle and I would throw torpedoes up in the air toward them. They would come down, explode and the reactions would be fun to watch. However, one year when I was over buying some kids were setting off fireworks near the stand and the dry cornfield next to it caught fire. Talk about excitement!


TKW July 4, 2013 at 6:18 pm


You are even naughtier than I thought. Scaring those poor drunkards!

Okay, I’m laughing my ass off. I can’t resist you. xoxo


SuziCate July 4, 2013 at 5:17 pm

This is your best story EVER! Your Daddy is a riot!


Alison July 4, 2013 at 6:59 pm

Your Dad is awesome.
And you’re an amazing storyteller.
Also love that your Dad commented.


Mr TKW July 4, 2013 at 8:25 pm

One of your nicknames, Pyro, now has greater meaning. Genetic predilection, perhaps?


TKW July 5, 2013 at 1:57 am


You have a point there. Crap! I think I’ll take Pyro, though. Better than the “let’s hijack public transit on Halloween gene…”


TKW July 5, 2013 at 8:13 am

Wait, it’s Mr. TKW? Obviously, I didn’t get enough sleep last night.

Hi, honey!

Make sure Daddy tells you about hi-jacking a vehicle one Halloween. We seem so tame in comparison. I should have known it was you with “genetic predilection.” Smooch.

Dumbest Phi Beta Kappa Ever


Katherine G July 4, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Ha ha ha!! Love it!!


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes July 5, 2013 at 4:42 am

Oh laughing sooooooo hard here!
Mostly because I had a father and cousins who would insist on fireworks at my birthday (july 4th), mainly because I’m the only one in the family with a summer birthday, thus providing every body with a good reason for some organized arsonery. They did not set the dump on fire, but our neighbour did once have to re – plant his roses …


Caitlin July 5, 2013 at 7:24 am

i love all the details in this story TKW! and that your family commented.. so cute :)


Rob July 5, 2013 at 8:03 am

What a great story! I love that you went to the city dump in the first place. That in and of itself is funny. When we lived on the farm, we had to bring our own trash to the dump. I can’t say I would ever take my family there for fun – not even fireworks! But, lighting the dump on fire – what a great way to end the night. In a way, your mother was right. Thankfully, it wasn’t anyone’s fingers, just a whole lot of garbage on fire :)


Arnebya July 5, 2013 at 8:31 am

I am in love with Daddy-O, I tell ya. We are still allowed to set off fireworks in DC, but we are flanked by MD and VA, both of which (I believe) have outlawed individual use. I do feel like it’s a shame even though we don’t do much more than sparklers and an occasional one labeled spectacular colors. We didn’t do any yesterday, actually, but we did our usual visit to a semi-empty school field to see the ones on the Mall.

More importantly, I’m sitting here with mosquito bites on my knuckle (THE HELL?), the backs of my knees, and my damn ankle. I’MA SCRATCH THE GODDAMN SKIN OFF.


TKW July 6, 2013 at 11:26 am


I get the back of the knee bites ALL the time. They itch so damn bad! My sympathies.


Jennifer July 5, 2013 at 2:32 pm

OMGOMGOMG! I should not have read this at work. My eyes are watering from trying to hold in the laugh out loud laughter and I’m snorting. Not good. Me. Not the post. The post is most excellent.


Barbara July 6, 2013 at 4:45 am

That was more than perfect. Funny, loving and filled with memories. There’s something about the 4th that brings out the child in us. That’s a good thing.


TKW July 6, 2013 at 11:28 am


It’s true. On July 4th, I think we all go back in time. To about 8 years old. :)


Sherri July 6, 2013 at 5:04 pm



Velva July 7, 2013 at 5:11 pm

My boys every year look forward to crossing over the state line to purchase ridiculous amounts of fireworks to shoot off in our drive way each year. I stay inside the house and hope for the best- Good grief.

Great story.



Dawn July 9, 2013 at 4:04 am

Wow. Every time I come over here there’s a great story! Thanks for sharing. I think I was in the back seat of the car with you.


Jenna July 10, 2013 at 9:00 am

Hahaha! Love this story.


Sam July 11, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I laughed so hard! Thank you for sharing this memory!!!


Jane July 19, 2013 at 1:27 pm

This reminds me of the year my dad and brothers set the marshlands next to our cottage on fire. Priceless memories for sure!


Mary Lee July 3, 2015 at 9:07 am

What a jewel of a story! Fireworks inside the house as well as outside!

I’m not a big fireworks fan any more. I’d rather watch them on TV so that I can mute the sound.

We’re never had a dog that wasn’t afraid of them and for some reason, every one of them has chosen MY closet as a hideout. My poor shoes. . . !


alexandra July 3, 2015 at 5:20 pm

You know, I will listen to every single dang story you have to tell.



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