Ahh, the Fourth of July. It is one of my favorite holidays and every year as I eat hot dogs and swat mosquitoes while waiting to watch the fireworks display, I harken back to simpler times.
Every year when I was a kid my two cousins would come up from Florida to visit me and my brother. This was always the highlight of the summer. Since we were all generally in the same neighborhood age-wise we would pair up and compete at everything.
Our wiffle ball games were legendary and we would play from sunup to well past dark. Once dark hit we would play tennis, basketball or any other sport we could come up with. Of course all sports took a back seat on Independence Day.
The first item on the Fourth of July agenda would be a visit to the fireworks stand. There we would buy all kinds of pretty fireworks. These would be for the parents. You see, they would watch us shoot fireworks until the mosquitoes got so bad they had to go inside. That is when the fun really started.
Besides pretty fireworks, we also bought as many bottle rockets as we could fit in the car. These were not for any other purpose than to shoot at each other into the wee hours of the morning. Known as a bottle rocket war, ours were legendary.
Most kids have bottle rocket wars in the daylight. At this time of day, there are two problems. One, your parents or any other authority figure can catch you rather easily. And second, you can easily see your opponent and when he is about to launch a bottle rocket at you.
When my brother and cousins got together though, we played in the dark. You haven't had a bottle rocket war until you think you are sneaking up on your opponent when you hear the ever dangerous hissing noise of a bottle rocket that has just been lit. And it has just been lit a couple feet to your left. I promise you will run faster than you ever have before.
Of course, we went well past just bottle rockets. We would play teams and try to flank our opponent into a Roman candle barrage and we would use smoke bombs to conceal our movements. Yes, I know it is pitch dark but even in the pitch dark smoke bombs are good at distracting your opponent.
By the time we got older my cousins, brother and myself became very adept at shooting these bottle rockets. Most of the time, aiming a bottle rocket accurately is like trying to throw a feather; it can't be done. So we would take our old wiffle ball bats (saved precisely for these wars) and load our bottle rockets into the end. I could hit a mosquito on the fly at 10 yards, although as the bottle rocket flew through the air it hit more than one mosquito.
We would also take soda bottles and use them. You have never seen so much fear as when you have your opponent cornered and launch 50 bottle rockets at them from a soda bottle that was prepared earlier in the day.
The four of us were generals in a world full of privates. In combat we would use phrases like "be ready on my count," "crossfire," "he's on my six," and "use deadly force." In other words, we were hard-core bottle rocket soldiers. We should have had tattoos.
I'm not really sure where we came up with the idea to hurl explosive objects at one another. It wasn't something our parents told us about. As a matter of fact my parents will probably read this and give me a phone call that will conclude with a lecture that ends with "you're lucky you guys didn't get hurt."
Unfortunately, like all fun things kids do, it ended when my older cousin got hurt. No, he didn't lose his eye to a bottle rocket or blow his thumb off. As a matter of fact, I can't remember any of us ever getting hurt by a flaming explosive. My oldest cousin did twist his ankle though when he stepped in a hole and that put an end to our bottle rocket wars. You know, because a twisted ankle put a severe kink in our wiffle ball games.
And let that be a lesson to all of you who are planning on lobbing small explosives at each other this Fourth of July. Always know where the holes in the yard are because one misstep, and someone will get hurt. Oh and I think I'm required by law to write the following: Bottle rocket wars are not safe and you shouldn't take part in any such activity. But we all know that as long as there are cheap fireworks, teenage boys and the Fourth of July, there will be bottle rocket wars.