Lighting up the Fourth then and now |

Lighting up the Fourth then and now

“Mom would drive. We’d meet the train in Wadsworth, pick up our fireworks at the station. We ordered the fireworks from a catalog. The catalog came folded up like a map. Unfolded it was about the size of a movie poster. We kids always had 20 to 30 things circled on it. It came from the Dakotas. As kids it seemed reasonable what we wanted of course mom made suggestions, and the final decision… I never drove to get the fireworks… By the time I was old enough to drive we didn’t do that any more. UPS delivered them, then didn’t. Can’t remember when it stopped that was a long time ago.”

My husband drops this little bit of history in my lap as we drive through Wadsworth past a stationary train car painted with the words Cloud Line in large white letters. Looked as if the car had not moved in a long time.

Back in time his family ordered fireworks all the way from the Dakotas, even got them delivered by UPS for a while. Then a mother of five, would drive about an hour each way in the middle of summer, without air-conditioning, to pick up a station wagon full of fireworks for the Fourth of July. How safe was that trip home? Seat belt laws weren’t enforced in the early ’60s. The speed limit in Nevada was rather lenient. Fireworks were unstable. Some risks are worth taking.

Small town girls, though, in the middle of the Midwest, were pretty sheltered. We were only allowed to hold long thin sparklers, bought in town, to write our names in light on dark summer nights. Dad held the firecrackers he let us light with our sparklers he would then throw in the air. Bottle rockets and screaming whistlers going off from neighbor’s yard. Not until I was in college did I see huge colors burst overhead.

Then there were reports of kids’ fingers being blown off by firecrackers, eyes damaged, fires started. After a while restrictions were put on who could buy, sell, and even what type of fireworks could be available to the public.

Laws created to save us from ourselves, or at least the lives and fingers of children not closely supervised by parents. Like laws limiting pollutants in our water and air for our health and safety.

The years when our own boys were growing up on the ranch we had sparklers and little whistlers, and access to firecrackers. But loud rockets and colorful explosions spooked the cattle. Causing them to push hard against the fences. And if the summer was dry with brown grass, a fire could quickly do damage. So to Lake Tahoe we’d go to see fireworks. Loved it. Still do. A heartfelt thank you to every agency, individual, business and organization that puts together the Stateline’s 4th of July celebration.

And a big thank-you to all who protect why we celebrate the Fourth, the military, the ACLU, the letter writers, the public protesters, the activists, the investigators, the whistleblowers. The defenders of our Constitution, which was written to guarantee freedoms, not safety. So be vigilant in protecting your freedom, as well as your fingers. Always looking forward to the fireworks.

Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.