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The Last Windrow: Fourth of July fireworks

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The Fourth of July seems to have come early this year. For some reason my mental state is still stuck in a May 10 frame of mind.

It seems as though we've missed the bus when it comes to normal weather cycles. What was dry is now wet; what was supposed to be green is yellow from lack of sunshine; and the loons have had to re-nest in some cases.

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It just doesn't seem time for sparklers and bottle rockets. But it is.

This week will see more illegal fireworks cross the borders of Minnesota than any other time of year. It seems strange to me that one must become half a criminal to purchase a buzz bomb. It happened in my growing up years in that little town of my mother's birth, Westfield, Iowa.

Just across the Big Sioux River from Westfield sat a place called River Sioux. The only thing River Sioux had going for it in those days was that a couple of weeks before the Fourth, a couple of fireworks stands suddenly showed up.

This part of the Big Sioux River was prone to flooding almost every year and not much labor was put into these wooded shacks that held Black Cats, Gorillas, cherry bombs, M-80s and sky rockets. The owners probably threw in the towel when it came to upgrading the sheds because they knew they would be under water the following spring.

River Sioux had once been a dance hall, I was told. It sported a large dance floor and saloon out over the flowing water of the "Sioux." Somehow I think my mother's brothers discovered that place in their late teens and early 20s. I remember hearing them talking about a few fights that broke out there over some girl or girls.

No doubt there was no police patrolling of the area and many drove home when they maybe should have called a cab. But cabs were scarce in farm country as well, which left a person with little choice.

But, River Sioux came back to life a few weeks before the Fourth of July each year. It was exciting to drive down that embankment to the front of the wildly decorated fireworks shacks. There was no expense spared when it came to putting up those banners!

Giant black cats with glowing eyes, huge gorillas baring their canines, giant explosions of Roman candles lighting the night skies all made us nervous with excitement wondering how much money Dad was going to pull out of his pocket for our own personal show.

We always thought he should have bought more, but farm budgets allowed X amount of fireworks and we would be happy with that or go without. There were few community displays of fireworks at that time; hence, if you wanted to light up the sky, it was up to you.

I felt like I was working undercover as we tossed the sacks of gun powder filled ballistics into the trunk of that '51 Chevy and headed back to Iowa where it was verboten to shoot anything above a snake.

I wondered if we would ever be caught and all thrown in the poke for breaking the law. It added a certain amount of zest to our trip home, thinking that at any time we might be pulled over and searched by the sheriff.

But, that never happened, and on those Fourth of July nights a hog trough would be set up in the pasture below our house. Skyrockets would be propped up in the trough, lit and sent heavenward to the "ooooohs" and "aaaaaaahs" of us below.

Buzz bombs would head up and over our heads and wildly zoom off toward the hay barn, which caused some alarm, but not much. Roman candles would spit and huff and puff and finally send colored balls to illuminate the windmill sitting below.

In all it was about an hour show because each firework had to be lit with an individual, blue-tipped farmer's match. That takes some time. Someone always forgot to buy punk sticks.

As the smell of spent gunpowder wafted across the pasture, up the hill and drifted through the screens of my bedroom window, I fell asleep knowing that I was now a fireworks criminal, but it didn't really bother me much. It had been a great Fourth of July.

A happy and safe Fourth of July to all my readers!

See you next time. Okay?

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