My pyrotechnic interests had two early influences that blended into one memorable experience. The first influence was my father’s war with our neighbor and the second was our proximity to Nogales. We’d just moved to south Tucson into a tract home so new we had to wait for the concrete sidewalk to dry.
The neighbor’s name was Choate but I think political differences were at the heart of why my dad called him “Pig” Choate, a play on the homophone with shoat, the term for a young pig. Our houses faced each other across Menor Stravenue. Streets called stravenues are found nowhere in nature but Tucson, Arizona. It is a diagonal street that intersects a street and an avenue – a stravenue, with a unique postal abbreviation of “Stra”.
Now, I stared over at the Choate house a lot because along with his wife, Pig lived there with 3 daughters, one of whom was Mandy, my deepest and most abiding love before I got my driver’s license. I’d sit in our front yard for hours waiting for the opportunity for a glimpse of my maiden of Menor. I think I was once rewarded with a tiny wave and a shy smile but in hindsight, I think she might have been creeped out by the binoculars.
One day mid-June, my dad drug out a long extension cord and drill and started drilling small holes on the outside of our white picket fence that faced Choate’s house.
A few days before the Fourth, my dad appeared with a couple cases of his favorite Mexican beer that he could only get in Nogales, along with a mysterious box that came with a stern “stay out of it” lecture. His back was barely turned before I uncovered his cache of wicked-looking skyrockets.
I should point out that in those days Mexican fireworks were unregulated, some contained the equivalent of a quarter-stick of dynamite. All of them were robust.
The long-awaited holiday finally dawned and family and friends gathered for a traditional barbecue and while the adults were making big dents in the beer, us kids, now all aware of the impending incendiaries, gathered under tables in anticipation of we knew not what.
The afternoon grew rowdy and with an announcement, “It’s time!” my dad ripped open his box, scooped up an armload of rockets and ran along the front of our house, jamming their sticks into his pre-drilled holes, all aiming at Choate’s house. At the end he turned and with a flourish, lit one of his ubiquitous Lucky Strikes, and ran back down the line lighting the fuses.
As the opening barrage of the fusillade rained down upon the Choate house, Pig’s door banged open and he ran out bare-chested, shaking his fists in fury. Dodging fiery missiles, he scooped up his garden hose and began simultaneously hosing down the party across the street (us) as well as the flaming embers on his roof and shrubbery.
Oddly, I do not remember any police involvement, but I do recall it became an annual event that both sides of the street seemed to enjoy. It lasted several years although the two families never spoke.
And I never went out with Mandy.
Remember this for the approaching holiday: Campfires must be attended and fireworks must not leave the ground and they cannot go “bang”. Wildlife is too integral to the Colorado experience to have them terrified and running into fences and traffic. In 2015, 11,900 people were treated at hospitals for fireworks-related injuries. Two-thirds of those happen around July Fourth