For the first time since 2016, I’m in the South for Independence Day. With my imminent move to Bogotá, it’s a better than great chance that this will be my first, last, and only 2021 holiday in this part of the country. I’ll celebrate the nation’s 245th birthday with my in-laws before I make my way home to Birmingham. Of course, all of the standard Fs apply on Sunday: family, fun, food, and fireworks. I’m all for kicking it with my people for a spell. I’m always up for decent, low-key fun. And yes, I do eat well in the southeastern United States. The fireworks: I’ll pass on that, yo. I’ve long moved on from that era of my life. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the Roman candle incident.
How I first came across this moment? It was Independence Day 1997 and it was like any other 4th of July in my neighborhood. We had the ribs, burgers, and hot dogs on the grill and all of the potato chips, sodas, and juice boxes that government benefits in the projects could buy. All of the youngsters were engaged in a kickball game. It was good times. Then, after the sun went down, we got to the fireworks. My father had dropped in and brought this huge bag of fireworks he copped from Crazy Bill’s. We started with simple stuff like firecrackers, ground spinners, sparklers, and skyrockets. Then came the Roman candles. I’ve shot off Roman candles going back to 1992 when I was 7. Independence Day 1997 wasn’t any different…except on this particular day, as I was holding the Roman candle pointed upwards, one of the candles shot out of the bottom. It hit me on the wrist of my shooting hand—which happens to be very valuable to me—and I immediately dropped it, where it continued to shoot out. While everybody was fleeing, I was running and yelling in obvious pain. I had a burn on my wrist and it hurt like a mofo. I ended up having to go to Children’s Hospital of Alabama to get it checked out.
What it meant to me then? You read what I just wrote: it hurt like a mofo. I was fairly uncontrollable in my reaction. It hurt like a mofo. I’m not going to lie: I cried real tears. It hurt like a mofo.
What it means to me now? That was nearly 24 years ago. I haven’t touched a Roman candle since and I don’t plan on ever touching another Roman candle again. I’ll be damned—absolutely damned—if the firework gods are gonna catch me down bad like that again. The Roman candle incident in 1997 changed how I even interact with fireworks, from a general perspective. I don’t mess with fireworks that shoot off in your hand…not even the holding a skyrocket in a bottle deal. I don’t do one-off firecrackers. I don’t do sparklers. Basically, I’ll take the 50-pack of firecrackers with the long stem and light them up because I know I got the speed to get the hell out of the way fast. I’ll mess around fountains, parachutes, and aerial repeaters but I’ll hard pass on everything else. It only took one time for me to be on the wrong side of fireworks going bad. And did I mention it hurt like a mofo.