The rockets red glare … the bombs bursting in my hair.

One fine year the nearest big city decides on the Fourth of July that they were going to forego their traditional fireworks display.

So, my little town jumps up and announces that they’re going to have a Boom-a-Rama. For $5 per car, anyone who wishes can drive out to the city lake, where the grass has been cut, volunteer fire department and Rescue squad are present in force and – quite coincidentally – the city has set up food and soft drink stands for only about 400% above the going rate.

If you don’t think real hard about it, this sounds like a right proper idea. Give everyone a safe place to worship the gods of Big Noises and Fire, with public safety personnel less than a scream away, and the town makes a decent chunk of change.

What actually happened was one of the most concentrated collections of pure distilled dumbass that I’ve been privileged to see in my four decades on this green earth.

So. Here is the LawDog clan. And we are planning on making sure that on the morning of July 5, there won’t be a single evil spirit within about 300 miles of this town. We spent a lot of money on fireworks. And some of them may, or may not, have been supplemented by those of us with a working knowledge of pyro-chemistry.

Night falls, and we load up into three extended cab pickups and an SUV — when I say clan, I mean everybody — and we drive out to the lake.

And it is a pretty drive. From the highway there are these huge, beautiful bursts of red and green and gold and every other colour available to modern chemistry sparkling in the air over the lake. Gorgeous.

Then, we actually got out to the lake.

Picture, in your minds eye, an area roughly the size of two high school football fields sans sidelines or endzones, placed side-by-side.

Now, take every redneck in a town of 6000 with pyromaniacal tendencies, and put them in this area. Add a generous dose of the inhabitants of the nearby city of 100,000, who are determined to make up for their city’s lack of a firework display with one of their own.

Got that mental picture? Good, now add everyone in the eight surrounding bloody counties who feels slighted by the lack of an official fireworks display anywhere, and has decided to make do “Out at Bugscuffle Lake.”


You literally couldn’t go six feet without tripping over an artillery tube.

Looked cool as hell from the parking area.

The ladies, being the only of the clan who seemed to be actually, you know, thinking that night, promptly holed up inside the SUV with the children and locked the doors.

Us menfolk, all veterans and no strangers to bigger goat-ropings than this, promptly spat some chaw, hitched up our belts, picked up our two crates of go-bangs and trundled into the fray.

I should, at this point, describe the crates. Somewhere, one of the clan had found two crates about six feet long, maybe two feet or so across and about the same deep. Had rope handles on either end. On hindsight, they might have borne a striking resemblance to cheap coffins, but nobody thought to point that out to me at the time.


Anyhoo, off we trundle through the field, carrying our two … crates … of fireworks, mentally rubbing our paws and giggling.

The first problem came when we literally couldn’t find a place to set up. Everytime we’d think we found a decent spot, someone else would plonk down an artillery tube less than ten feet away and begin launching explosive stuff willy-and-nilly.

Finally we got located. We unshipped our mortar tubes, and began wiring a sequence pattern for the first barrage, when somebody — foster brother, brother-in-law, somebody — yelled, “Fire!”

Chortling indulgently, Chris patted this person on the shoulder and bellowed above the sounds of thousands of pyrotechnics going off, “Patience!”

“Patience, my ass,” said worthy replies, pointing, “Fire!”

Yeppers. Waist-high wall of flame roaring our way, gamely pursued by two aging pumper trucks.

I’m told that the sight of seven very large white guys, hoisting two vaguely coffin-shaped crates whilst hauling ass across a field followed by a grass-fire, followed in turn by two pumper trucks, had the ladies in stitches for the rest of the evening.

No comment.

Anyhoo, once the flames were beaten into submission by the VFD, we set back up, loaded our first pattern and launched it successully into the sky.

Many ooh’s and ahh’s followed, and we began a hearty round of congratulatory hand-shaking, in the middle of which my foster brother (I think, may have been a cousin) began to frantically slap the lids back onto our crates.

We were somewhat puzzled by this, until someone pointed out a fairly large-ish artillery tube about 15 feet away. Laying on it’s side. With a sparking length of cannon fuze disappearing into it’s depths.

Which we could see, because it was pointed right at us.

Kith dove left. Kin sprinted right, and foster brother just dropped flat in-between the two crates as the tube launched and the big red ball impacted about six feet short of our cases of low-grade explosive, arced over the top, bounced again about 20 feet further on and detonated in a beautiful burst of red and blue fireballs in the middle of a group of people who seemed to have been setting up about six strings of Black Cats.

At least, I hope that’s what they were doing, ’cause that’s what happened.

From the mighty cheer that went up, I can surmise that this feat met with approval from a great many people. I can also surmise that more than a few of them had been steadily violating the “No Booze” rule and were multiple sheets to the wind.

Anyhoo, someone, whom I don’t know, but apparently unrelated to the survivors of the artillery shell/Black Cat incident, decided that this required a stern response, right smartly.

Counter-battery fire came in the form of two artillery shells and a smoke bomb zeroing in on the culprits.

Passing over our crates in the bloody process, I might add.

This, of course, necessitated answering fire missions of several minutes duration, culminating in an artillery shell bouncing gracefully from roof-to-roof of several innocent vehicles merely watching the display, before detonating spectacularly above a hapless Plymouth Neon and bringing the attention of Johnny Law.

With the appearance of the local PD and the SO and DPS, the combatants were dispersed nicely, allowing kith and kin to emerge from our various positions of cover, and begin to — once again — set up our display.

By Thor, we got off two full sets of launches, and I was just getting into the proper spirit of things, when I get punched between the shoulder blades with a flaming pick-axe. Next thing I know, I’m face down in the dirt, can’t breath, mouth full of dry grass, and the distinct smell of flaming cotton fabric wafting gently in the non-existant breeze.

Trust me, I know what a burning cotton shirt smells like. Don’t ask.

I can also see, from my somewhat skewed perspective, what looks like a high-school-maybe-college-age girl with a mildly perplexed look on her face as she tugs on the sleeve of a slightly older man standing next to her.

He turns, and in the rockets red glare and the gentle illumination of bombs bursting in air, I can lip-read her say to the guy, who has been setting up another four-foot tall, sub-orbital, ballistic missile: “Baby, I think the rocket fell over.”


Next thing I know, everyone else is dumping the contents of one crate into the other crate, picking my gently smouldering carcass up, dumping it into the emptied crate, picking up both crates and –once again — taking off at a dead run across the field.

Now, remember the description of the crate earlier? Now. Imagine you are the distaff members of the clan. Your male relatives – minus one – come running past the SUV you have wisely holed up in. They are carrying – still one relative short – a large crate matching the description given above, with limbs, and bits and parts hanging over the side because I don’t bloody well fit, thankyouverymuch, heave the crate and aforementioned bits into the back of a pick-up and drive off at a high rate of speed.


They caught up when the driver stopped the pick-up at the closest cattle tank, and the rest heaved me and my crate into the water, to make sure that no bits were still warmer than they should have been. Kind of put the kibosh to the rest of the night.



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17 thoughts on “The rockets red glare … the bombs bursting in my hair.”

  1. Sir, you have once again performed an impeachable service to humanity. Thank you.

  2. ROFL

    Did you get a Purple Heart for this incident? Or maybe just a commendation.

  3. So, what are you doing this 4th of July? And can we show up, too? OldeForce

  4. Reminds me of the Fourth of ’96. Our ‘clan’ was invited out for a barBQ at a family friend’s ranch in Navasota. Dad stopped at two different fireworks stands to load up. Long story short, dad bought two sets of mortar tubes. Basically, three tubes nailed to a 2×4. He also didn’t read the directions regarding supports. Fire mission is a go and one round lights off the night sky. The recoil promptly kicked over the remaining rounds…into the work shed. They both bounced off fully loaded acetelyne(sp?) tanks and spooked the horses in the stables next to the shed. All wives and womenfolk went indoors at that point and menfolk and boys tried to do it again.

    Your stories are great, LD. They do remind me of my youth, and the youthful, small-town stories of my dad. Keep ’em coming.

  5. You really need to find a publisher! This stuff is fantastic! Kind of reminds of Pat McManus.

  6. Your story eerily reminds me of one 4th a long time ago. Some idiot put a small 24 shot saturn missile battery in front of our family of seven on uneven grass. After the thing shot once or twice it fell down and the resulting barrage shot at a very horrofied family. I jumped and covered the youngest member at 4 years of age presidential style. Mom covered two more with her body. Dad looked down the bad end of a lone missile and said he could actually see it going strait for his nose. Something about having his name on it. My sis was with dad and both jumped out of the way. The only casualty was the huge firetruck behind us which took every shot that missed us. One fighter checked us out while three stood around worrying about the truck. We shot dirty looks and I said a few bad names to the one offender and they left shortly afterwards.

    The town this happened in is famous for their fire works. They are one of the most restricting liberalised towns there are but if it is made of gunpowder you can shoot it off in the park. And the description meets what you posted. Artillary going off every ten feet every second. 2 foot deep in fire works trash. Occassional boughts of meeting up with fireworks and flesh. I’m surprised they haven’t banned it.

  7. Dig a hole.

    Insert somewhere between five hundred and a thousand sparklers, all taped tightly into a bundle.

    Leave one standing proud for a fuse.


    Get back.

    Way back.

    There. Now the folks on the other side of the lake can read that map without a flashlight, for about the next ten seconds or so…

  8. oi….
    This is exactly why I never do home fireworks, although I have to admit: seeing you draped over the “crate”, being hauled over hill and dale and dumped into the water would have been a hoot!

  9. I love having friends with much more interesting lives than mine.

  10. Glad nothing more important than a shirt was damaged. And I'm assuming this story is going into the next book?

  11. I do love Texas and it's denizens, the whole spectrum, especially how they get with fireworks… many fond memories.

  12. Our Varsity Club used to have a bonfire each year, to celebrate the homecoming, every year the night before the big football game. So the varsity football team would go out after practice and gather wood for the bonfire, always being on the lookout for an outhouse to put on top of the pile. The goal was to always get bigger than the previous year.
    My senior year, we had the pile of wood huge, bigger than ever before. And we had a lead on a huge outhouse. We had 5 of us in the cab of a pickup truck headed out to pick the outhouse up and the driver was going so fast, the needle of the gauge was all the way around and past the 120, past the mph, and was trying to get past the stud that was the zero of the next side of the round gauge.
    A vehicle was trying to turn left ahead of us, and we went around him on the right side of the road, of a 2 lane road, doing well over 100 MPH. I know that this was not about a fire, only slightly related, but it was the scariest sort of fire related story I ever experienced. None of us were ashamed to make the driver slow down and stay slowed down. I remember that I was shaking, I mean, really shaking, and I was 17 years old, and immortal at that age, or so I thought.
    Here in Michigan now, you can buy all kinds of fun fireworks, back when I was in high school, you could not buy much other than sparklers.

  13. We were stationed in Germany in the 1970s, and went to the base for 4th of July fireworks. About 10 minutes into a 30-minute show, the entire fireworks display caught fire and began going off. It was a short display, but spectacular! Only a couple of rounds came close to those watching.

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