My brother, Keith, is the salt of the earth, the sort of guy who would give you the shirt off his back, take the tiger by the tail and “Get ’er done!” Now, doesn’t that description conjure up, in all its quadruple clichéd glory, the image of a comic-book-cover super-hero? Bare-chested, perspiration drying his fore-arms into salty, deer-lick delightfulness, he flings a huge saber-toothed tiger in wider and wider concentric circles over his head, clearing the vicinity for a mile and a half of any imminent danger as he “gets ’er done.”
Yep! That’s him alright, this brother of mine who single-handedly accomplished what no one thought would ever happen in our lifetime— The discharge of fireworks in the freedom-loving township of Middlesex Centre, in Middlesex County, in the province of Ontario, Canada, is now illegal on all but three dedicated days of the year! Sadly, my brother Keith is still dedicated to fireworks on all three hundred sixty-five of them.
On every fireworks-worthy holiday for generations, the people in our neighbourhood have always felt free to let off our explosives at random, on the Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and even the Mondays, of our traditionally celebration-worthy weekends. There’s been nary the blink of an eye on the part of the authorities— until now. This freedom has always been widely capitalized upon by all township residents and their kin, but none more especially than my kin— the Stephenson family, the kids and grand-kids of my parents, Bill and Jean.
I should let you know that my brother Keith is to fireworks what Liz Taylor was to husbands. Always treading in the danger zone, seemingly never able to get enough of them— the more the merrier, in fact. Liking them well enough, to even try a good explosive one a second time round! Well, that’s Keith with a sex change and a change of habit. (Somehow, that isn’t what I meant to say at all! It sounds less like a comparison to Liz Taylor than a B grade movie about confused nuns or something.)
When other people feel particularly stressed after work they might stop for a box of butter tarts or some special treat at their local bakery. I know this because of the number of tarts we used to sell every Monday at our family’s bakery― to exhausted folks returning home from work. Keith, on the other hand, deals with stressful Mondays in his own unique way, by wheeling around to a fireworks’ distributor for a box of Festival Balls or Screamers, whenever they are available for sale.
These he sometimes brings to family meals as his own personal hostess gift. For example, there was the one he brought for Rolly’s and my anniversary once, on a snowy November evening. Straight off the side deck with a 30 second warning— “Hey guys! Come out here quick!” “POW! POW! KA-POW!” I was gob-smacked, as the Brits say! I thought initially, when he called us, that he had just caught sight of a wild turkey or a browsing deer that he wanted us to admire. So we hastily popped our heads out the patio door to be greeted with a loud explosion. Well, I nearly lost my hearing, (not to mention my bladder control!)
Other family members have been just as dynamically engaged by Keith’s whimsical sense of fun! Letting off a few “little” impromptu noisemakers on the front lawn of my town-dwelling sister’s home was meant simply to whet our appetites for the next country-side blow-out. Fortunately, Kathy’s understanding, police officer neighbour was at home at the time. He was able to alert the dispatcher not to send the swat team round when cannon-like retort echoed off the town water tower, just a few hundred yards away! He was also, in all likelihood, more than willing to assist when he caught a whiff of the mouth-watering aroma of our family’s potluck meal, just ready to be served, wafting out the front windows, into the yard.
Back to the explanation I was aiming to make— just how we lost our freedom to discharge fireworks in our Middlesex Center back yard. Well, to put it mildly, aiming wasn’t being done particularly well on that particular evening when it happened— the night of my brother’s last epic blow-out.
Keith had brought along an entire trailer-load of “recreational explosives” and it was the weekend before the July 1st holiday weekend. The gathering was very large, with family and friends, and friend of friends as well. There was a terrific variety of amazing pyrotechnics, very well planned out by Keith. But then a large cardboard carpet tube was called into play, as a rocket launcher to aim “bangers” and “screamers” higher and higher— far over the trees at the back of the property and well into the view of the nearby village. At an altitude high enough to be amplified many times over by the echoes booming between the hill that we reside on and the opposite one— Poplar Hill. There were enough screamers to recreate the sound of the first Beatles’ concert and enough bangers to put a door-knocker factory out of business that night!
Meanwhile someone requisitioned a length of aluminum downspout in an attempt at adding a synchronized explosive display to the show. Unfortunately the choreography soon fell apart as tired arms lost their strength. The elevation of some projectiles diminished from time to time, simply skimming over the paved road beside our property. These explosions were then complimented by the beautiful syncopation of the honking of horns, by both approaching and passing traffic! Honk!… Honk! Honk!… Honk… Honk! Honk! Delight or Flight? It was a little hard to decide what Keith’s symphony should be called! As with geese flying overhead, it is oft-times difficult to discern their mood.
An hour or so later, and after several slow drive-bys, by the local police, the very last percussion was, in all likelihood, cussed by the residents of Poplar Hill who had sadly, not been invited. The chairs were folded up, the fire was dampened down, and the last of the stragglers leaned upon their open car doors looking up at the clear starry night. All was silent. All present seemed caught up in awe at the magnificence of the heavens.
Then suddenly, KABOOM! KABOOM! Earlier in the evening, some of the contents of the trailer had, apparently, been looted by a few booty-seeking boys who wanted to play the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Sadly, just as Mickey Mouse, in the movie Fantasia, couldn’t hold back the flood of unfortunate consequences once the flood was unleashed; neither could those young aspiring pyrotechnic wizards, or even my brother Keith, the Fireworks’ Sorcerer. It was inevitable.
Shortly thereafter the township council passed a new bylaw forbidding fireworks on any other evening than Victoria Day and Canada Day between dusk and 11:00 PM, and New Year’s Eve between dusk and 1:00 AM. To do otherwise would only ever be permitted again with an impossibly expensive permit and very stringent, and costly supervision. (Paid attendance of firemen and police).
Sadly, the Firework’s King has had to move on to greener pastures, (much to the relief of the dairy farmer across the way from us, no doubt.) Apparently, our local McDonalds don’t like to make their milkshakes on site!