Uncle David usually had firecrackers and cherry bombs when the Fourth of July rolled around. I liked sparklers, the metal ones, but I loved the various fountains that shot colorful sparks up into the air. The higher the better.
In the Summer of 1969, there were no fireworks stands in East Oakland, but my new friend, Nick, told me that if we took a bus out to Union City, I could stock up at one of the legal stands on the bus route. He was living with family in Union City and we could hang out and listen to records after I made my firework’s selection.
Nick was tall and grew his hair longer than any of my other friends. He even had the start of what looked like a mustache and a goatee. It was just a hint of the growth to come. His record collection was made up of artists who would soon be dead, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison. I had been listening to music recorded in the 1920s and 1930s, so I could tell that Janis and Jim were under the influence of something that had its roots in Blues and Jazz. Hendrix was too, but it was harder to hear it with all that feedback and reverb. It sounded like he was trying to find a sound that no one had ever heard before, but something was holding him back. It was loud, cacophonous, sad, and filled with longing. Nick would have played me every album he owned, but the time was short and I needed to catch a bus back to Belvedere Street with my stash of fireworks.
I couldn’t wait until the Fourth. Every night I tried out a new fountain, rated the experience on my highly esoteric scale, then discussed it with my circle of friends the next day. There was a lot more room in Mrs. DeElton’s gravelly backyard, so I would light my “safe and sane” fireworks there instead of in Nana’s grassy overgrown backyard. I liked to run and jump through the cascade of star light, crackle, and pop which wasn’t exactly “safe” or “sane”.
Come the Fourth, I was worried that some concerned neighbor might call the police on me. I took my final selection of fireworks into Mrs. DeElton’s backyard. No one was home and I was all alone, but I didn’t feel alone. Then, I noticed that the old man who kept a vegetable garden next-door was watching me through his window and seemed to be enjoying the show. The firelight reflected on his window and I could see his face glisten and his eyes sparkling with each new fountain that I lit. The old man used to give me and the other kids fresh carrots right out of the ground. Jeannie had told me that his wife had died recently and he didn’t talk much anymore. A voice called out my name and I spotted Uncle David silhouetted in the streetlight. I yelled back that I was almost done and would be home soon. He watched while I finished off my final fireworks.