Monday, August 10, 2009

August 10, 2009

Who doesn’t love fireworks? As a child, we all loved the thrill of waving a sparkler around, and the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of watching an old-fashioned fireworks show on some holiday weekend. As a kid for me, it was always driving out to Rockwood to see the fireworks, or down to Riverside Park in Guelph to see the show. Sometimes, I would climb up the antenna ladder on the side of our house and just sit on the roof, where I had a great view for miles and miles around Guelph, and could see all of the neighbourhood backyards shooting up their own fireworks. As a teen, you learn about the fireworks you couldn’t get at home…the ‘secret’ ones that one of your friends would bring back after a trip to the States…bottle rockets and Black Cats and M-80’s. That sure beat the shit out of pinwheels and smoke bombs and carbon snakes and snap bangs. As an adult, some of the mystique is gone for the most part, but there’s still that small part of everyone that loves to watch fireworks. Of course, some people never outgrow it.

I was visiting my friend Dwayne earlier this summer on a long weekend, and when I went down to see him in the basement when I got there, he was working on what can only be described as a small arsenal of fireworks. He had a LOT of fireworks, and a system that he implemented so that they all weren’t one-off shots. He was taping them together with extra-strong industrial tape, so that he was making super-bombs that would ignite each other once one of them was lit, and then all shoot off together in one big show. He took a lot of care to sizing, and what each piece actually did. (You wouldn’t want 2 gold fountains at the same time, for instance.) It was a two-to-three person job, as he needed help from someone to hold the fireworks bundle tightly together while he wrapped the tape around it. So, after about an hour of maintenance, and a full roll of tape, it was all pretty much done and I innocently asked if the tape wouldn’t just melt once they were ignited. He smiled and whipped out a bundle of plastic ties and said “That’s what these are for!”

That’s dedication.

About 10 years ago, my wife and I had just built a house in a new neighbourhood, and our street was about half filled with houses. We were all young couples, some with kids, and we got along really well, having street parties and Halloween and Christmas events. For one holiday weekend, we decided that the 7 houses were all going to chip in and get a bunch of fireworks for the Sunday night, and we would all gather together and light them off in one of the empty lots for the whole neighbourhood. I was in the group of 4 guys who went off to the Fireworks Trailer just outside of town to pick out our artillery. We got a selection of great stuff, a bunch of sparklers, and then I said, “We should get a Burning Schoolhouse.”
We all remember the Burning Schoolhouse, right? The lame little box that we always got growing up, that was part of any fireworks bundle that you purchased. It didn’t do anything but fizzle at the beginning, and then settle into a steady flame, which burned the cardboard housing that looked like a school. It was lame, but as kids, we liked it because who doesn’t like the image of your school burning down when you’re 5 years old? Our street had a lot of small kids, so I suggested we get a Burning Schoolhouse so that they could all sit close and watch one instead of having to be 30 feet away all the time. We all agreed that it was a good idea, and looked for one, but they didn’t have the traditional blue and red Burning Schoolhouse. Instead, they had something called the School On Fire. We assumed this would be the same, but with a different name. It was shaped the same, a small little box with a candle fuse on top like a chimney, with the box painted to look like a brick schoolhouse. It was yellow and brown instead of blue and red, but other than that, looked exactly the same.

As we would soon learn, School on Fire is definitely not the same as the Burning Schoolhouse.

We all gathered with our lawnchairs and coolers in an empty lot across the road at dusk, and then started with the fireworks show. We were about halfway through and we decided it was time for the School on Fire. So we gathered all the kids around the little box, and while they were significantly closer, they were still a safe distance away. Some of the kids were hesitant, and some of the parents were asking if it was safe, and we (me included) were explaining that it just fizzles and burns, and you have to be up close to see it. It’s wasted if you’re not up close, so we were insistent that the kids need to get closer. “Come on guys, you can go right up. It’s ok. It’s safe.”

So we finally get the kids all settled so that they’re about 4 or 5 feet away, all in a circle around the School on Fire…and then we light it. There were 4 of us standing off behind the kids watching as everything went according to plan…a soft fizzle of sparks that quickly subsided, and then a flame that lit the cardboard on fire. Everything was going according to plan, when all of a sudden…
The School On Fire exploded in what can only be described as a sound akin to a gunshot. Every kid started screaming, moms were scooping up their kids and running away as the kids were crying. It was horrible. The looks on the 4 of our faces must have been quite a picture, with all of our jaws on the ground simultaneously. I was looking directly at the kids when it happened, and the looks of horror on their faces, and the hair being blown back out of one girl’s face still stick with me 10 years later. We spent the rest of the night apologizing over and over.

How guilty do you think we felt after forcing the kids to get closer, only to see this thing explode in their faces? Rest assured, no one was hurt, but it was quite the scene. But in the future, I’ll make sure to stick to the original Burning Schoolhouse.


Any2crds said...

Great story, scary climax, happy ending. There is something to be said about reading the labels. Its funny how things we grew up with that were safe to us are no longer safe do to our own experiences, negative media or change of product (Tinker Toys, Lawn Darts) There is a topic for you).
I believe anyone could have fallen in the same trap. Your situation was an accident and thank ZOD no one was hurt. Its the morons who chose to hold the Roman candles in there hand and point them in the air or at each other. Suffice to say, i have never done it but have witnessed it and i assure you, it is not as safe as one would think. Ive seen first hand how a Roman Candle can malfunction and cause second degree burns.

Anonymous said...

Memory Lane. Haven't thought about the beloved Burning Schoolhouse in many a year. I have a confession however, to make, in the anonymity of this post. Unlike most of you out there, I would sit and watch the Burning Schoolhouse while imagining various teachers I loathed inside burning along with the school. Eerily, this totally added to my enjoyment of the Burning Schoolhouse experience.