Back Then We Were Real Firecrackers

When I was a teen, I had a friend who sometimes got me into … questionable situations. Case in point: One day he, I, and another friend were walking down the railroad tracks …

And there you go. Questionable situations.

He was a bit … reckless. He also wasn’t too good at impulse control, which I suppose is the same thing.

(He also once coaxed me onto the tracks to find a good position for viewing Halley’s Comet. We couldn’t see it. I don’t know what his thing was, with railroad tracks.)

Anyway, we were walking down the tracks, late at night, carrying packs of firecrackers and bottle rockets.

Once, when that other friend and I were playing chess, my questionable situation friend got bored and threw a firecracker into the middle of the board. We never did find all the pieces.

There are certain things you should never do with fireworks. At the time, I did most of them. He did all of them. In this case I was carrying firecrackers and a lighter, while my friend had bottle rockets and a bottle, which is what bottle rockets were originally to be fired from. Thus the name.

I have to be honest at this point: I can’t remember which of my friends was actually carrying the bottle. I’m just basing this on the odds.

These bottles were supposed to be rested on a level spot on the ground, from which they would rocket the, um, rocket. Manufacturers suggest you lay firecrackers down, light them where they lay, then do a stunt man roll away from them. We didn’t do those things.

I used to be able to do a stuntman roll. I also used to be able to see my belt without sucking in my gut.

Anyway, I was lighting the firecrackers and throwing them, even though I’d already been a firefighter for a few years and knew better. My friend was using the bottle as he should, only instead of putting it on the ground he would hold it in his hand and pointed it toward safe areas, like high grass, creosote-soaked railroad ties, or birds.


“Oops … sorry about that.”


Probably bats, in this case.

Afterward it took us awhile to put together what happened.

That sentence tends to pop up in many of my stories.

I lit a firecracker. At the same time, my friend lit a bottle rocket. Our other friend was walking between us. Instead of launching, the rocket dropped into the bottle. The firecracker fuse had apparently been soaked in nitroglycerin, because there was a fuse there–but the firecracker reacted as if there wasn’t.


Both went off at the same instant, followed closely by terrified screams, and my friends probably yelled, too. The firecracker went off in my hand. The bottle exploded into shards of glass that flew like shrapnel.

No, we didn’t get our deposit back. I’ll explain that joke to you younger folks later.

I waved my hand around, but at the same time didn’t look at it. I had no desire to know how many digits were missing. Maybe if I ignored the problem it would go away, just like it never worked before. Would I spend the rest of my life known as “Lefty”, “Three-Finger Mark”, or “Stupid”?


“Look! There goes a left thumb!”


The guy who played Scotty on “Star Trek” lost a finger in World War II, and did his best to hide it when the cameras were rolling. There’s a guy who could have bragged about his loss; in fact, if I had come out of this with fewer digits, I probably would have stolen his story and hoped no one asked for details.

I had minor burns on my hand; I don’t think my friend even had a cut. If I had a dime for every time my hand got burned, I could buy some gloves. Still more proof that angels watch over the foolish.

I sometimes wonder if the frostbite damage done to my hands several years earlier could have protected them, somehow. That would be ironic.

The moral to this story? Well, don’t be stupid. Duh. Still, memories like this give me mixed feelings when it comes to dealing with young people. On the one hand, people inexperienced in life–and seemingly further from death than I am–are going to do stupid things. That hasn’t changed since the first cave-teen teased a T-Rex. On the other hand, I’d like them to learn the easy way, even though they’re hard wired to learn the hard way. I prefer to split the difference and try to talk them into avoiding both death and hospitals.

Personally, I’ve seen enough of both.


“Heh heh … heh heh … cool.”


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2 thoughts on “Back Then We Were Real Firecrackers”

  1. I’m the same as you. I did LOTS of stupid things when I was younger but my friends were never hurt and I would end up in a gulag somewhere. Fun times.

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