Slice of Life: Spent Fireworks

(This is part of the weekly Slice of Life writing at Two Writing Teachers)

The other night, our local park held its second annual Fireworks Event for Independence Day (a little early, I know). My wife and I, and our youngest son, set up chairs at local golf course so we could watch the action in the skies while still avoiding the crowds after the event. It was a beautiful night, and the fireworks were spectacular to watch. Just wonderful. We even forgot the bugs that were pouncing on us as we waited for the pyrotechnics to begin.

I was reminded, though, of childhood, when I was living in an apartment complex where every Fourth of July would bring disparate families together, and many adults would have horded up collections of fireworks from vacation visits to New Hampshire and places down south. It would be a sort of contest between the two main wings of the apartment buildings — who could have the more spectacular displays that night? As kids, it didn’t matter who won that sort of contest — we were all winners. But what the other night brought back to me was how, the day after the fireworks at our apartment building, us kids would all get up wicked early in the morning and have our own contest: who could find the most spent fireworks. We’d scuttle around on wet grass, gathering and gathering, and then showing off what we found, even trading like baseball cards.

I imagine our parents didn’t mind. We were doing some sort of unofficial clean up duty of the neighborhood. But I still remember the lingering smell on my fingertips of old firecrackers and roman candles, and even a few unexploded ones how dead from the dampness of the night. Sometimes, we’d let them dry out, spin the paper off them, and then light the powder left behind. All out of eyeshot and earshot of the adults, of course.

This memory had me wondering about the fireworks we watched from the distance. Who cleans up the spent fireworks at the park? Is there a horde of kids coming out of the mist of dawn to gather them up? Somehow, I doubt it. It just seems like yet another childhood tradition fallen by the wayside as we “protect” our kids. Even me. It didn’t occur to me to get my sons up bright and early that next morning and scour the fields for old fireworks. I’m not even sure they would go.

Peace (in the memory),


  1. Kevin,
    I felt such joy as I pictured you running around the neighborhood as a kid picking up those spent fireworks. I can relate to a childhood like that. Then the ending left me with such unsettled sadness with how times have changed and how in protecting children we are also robbing them of this independence/freedom to explore and make these memories. You stirred up two very contrasting and effective emotions.

    Dana (

  2. I think there are those ‘professionals’ who set them all off so there’s really nothing left. You took me back, too, Kevin. We used to run all over gathering & sharing what was found. Maybe it was the girl I was, but I would pretend to set up a fireworks stand & sell-all pretend I know, but perhaps it was a way to keep the magic going for one more day? Thanks for the memories & the thoughts. We do protect so much.

  3. I love the childhood memory you shared with us, Kevin. It made me think back to some favorite childhood memories involving fireworks.
    Your question about who picks them up made me think back to Bastille Day in 1994 when I was living in SW France. One of the fireworks came down and hit the lady behind me. Burned her skin. Thankfully she was okay, but it must’ve hurt like crazy. Ever since then I always pay attention to where they’re landing for fear one will land on me.

  4. I’m the parent that protects too much, I think. I would be horrified to find my kids playing with the fireworks…yes, even the spent ones! That’s the overly cautious side of me; the “what-if-something-happened” side of me. Realistically, I know they won’t spontaneously reignite on their own after a night in the wet grass. But what if? I’m sure my daughter would love to play Linda’s game and set up a fireworks stand! She’d set up a stand to sell anything! My oldest? He’d think of it as having to pick up trash…a chore…a job. No, he wouldn’t enjoy it. I guess we will see what happens after the 4th of July fireworks at our house this year!

  5. Ah, the things we don’t let our kids do. Actually, my sons did get to pick up old fireworks last summer at my sister’s house. I was watching them, though, so they didn’t get to light any leftovers.

    Sometimes I wonder how I survived with no seat belts and all that dangerous playground equipment- and sometimes I wish I didn’t worry about my own kids so much.

    I understand our need to protect-the media would have a hayday with a story about someone’s hand being blown off by a pile of recycled firework gunpowder-not that this could really happen…but you always seems to hear horror stories now adays! I don’t know if my son would venture out to do this. I will take a poll of the fam and find out! Very unique topic to think about, especially with the 4th coming up next week!

  7. Great memoir piece Kevin. Writing that evokes memories of long ago when it was possible to purchase your own fireworks. So thanks for taking me with you as you walked back in time. You also prompt thought about levels of ‘protection’ with research findings just published here in Australia saying 1:4 kids have never climbed a tree! -and many kids never play outdoors on a regular basis. You have created a piece that stimulates thought on a number of levels. Great stuff!

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