Once we outgrew the snakes, the next toys we indulged in were sparklers. Sparklers were much more exciting than snakes. The sparkler was basically a piece of wire, about nine inches long; that included a fuel, usually charcoal or sulfur (the same as black powder); an oxidizer, potassium nitrate for example; a binder such as sugar or starch, which when coated on the wire and dried, allow the substances to remain; and finally, the best part, the aluminum, iron, steel, zinc, or magnesium dust that creates the beautiful, bright, shimmering sparks. The metal flakes heat up until they are incandescent and shine brightly. Once lit, the sparkler shot out colorful sparks at a ferocious rate. They were best played with after dark, so you achieved the full effect of the fire and color.
Each of us ran to Dad with sparkler in hand (Dad had the matches; he probably didn’t think it was safe for us to have our own matches), and he lit each of our sparklers. Whereas we then ran around the yard flailing our arms around in circles, writing our names in the air, and getting as close to each other’s faces as we thought we could get away with, squealing and giggling the entire time.
Once we became good at it, we graduated to a sparkler in each hand, and then maybe two in each hand (if you tried to hold too many at a time, the sparks burned your hand). Besides the obvious, in the wrong hands these little toys had the potential to be quite lethal, in an inconspicuous way.
You see, when the sparkler had burned itself out, we tended to throw the remaining wire on the ground and run back to Dad to get our sparkler refill. Unfortunately, the discarded wire was still extremely hot, and as I mentioned in an earlier chapter of the book, we always ran around barefoot, especially during the summertime. A hot sparkler on the bottom of the foot ensured that in addition to squealing and giggling, there was loud screeching and one-legged hopping around to liven up the evening.
Dad, with a look of incredulity, turned to Mom and said, “Honey, what are those kids doing, jumping around the yard and screeching like that?”
Mom, oblivious to the reality at hand, “I don’t know, dear, I guess they’re just having a good time.”
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