You could still play catch at 9:30 as July 4 loomed the other night. Even with the crawl of time, anyone who grew up in Minnesota carries the souvenir of having wrung every glimmer from the penetrating summer sun.
Nearly 16 hours of daylight made the week leading to the Fourth of July glorious in the Red River Valley, and it was made better because blowing off fireworks all day long was illegal in Minnesota.
About the time I got accustomed to those long summer days and wondering if there were enough punks — that long, smoldering match — to last through the Fourth, I learned that days were even longer in Minot, North Dakota, what with it being perilously close to Canada and all.
We didn’t take many five-hour car trips north, but Mom’s nephew and family were stationed in almost Canada as the Vietnam war trickled to an end.
So we spent a couple days at the Minot Air Force Base, where my cousin ran simulations for World War III and the real explosions came around 10 o’clock on the Fourth of July.
I lived vicariously through my cousin’s very young son as Dad handed him large sparklers as he watched fireworks way past the hour any kid that age was allowed to be awake in the 1960s.
The mosquitos were thick in Minot, so I asked Dad to fire up a Lucky Strike to keep them away while I torched Roman candles and lady fingers. I had to leave the fun stuff at home.
Dad was a guy who could have forecast the Hindenburg disaster, so it wasn’t hard for him to recognize that no good could come from a teenaged kid with cherry bombs and M-80s around a 3-year-old. It hadn’t been a hard sell, partly because all that stuff was legal in North Dakota, so it was more fun to blow it off back home.
The other thing that made the sell easy happened a few years earlier, when the kid across the alley showed up hours before the July 4th fireworks display with a clean, white bandage over his right eye after learning about the ornery side of a cherry bomb. It had an impact: That story got passed down to the rookie neighborhood kids every year.
You could throw a baseball from the window of the Minnesota hospital where I was born and hit North Dakota, so it was a short drive to load up in late June.
The cops gave us a pass on that because every kid on the North Dakota side of the river a pop fly away was blowing off strings of Black Cat firecrackers all day long.
Why fireworks are illegal in so many states is hard to figure. Blowing up money has broad appeal. We do it all the time when we grow up, so the lure of fireworks isn’t hard to grasp.
One of my cousins from Maryland loved the licorice candy SNAPS, and he loved fireworks. You could buy neither in Maryland. One summer when the family flew to Minnesota, he flew back with his suitcase packed with both. There was no airport security in the ’60s.
I’m not sure what kind of damage can be done to a large plane by a small suitcase filled with fireworks. My uncle worked for the federal government and eschewed a stress analysis in favor of being briefly furious. But he relented and let my cousin blow off the fireworks.
Any reasonable man had to admire the initiative of that scheme and realize, “that kid’s gonna be a go-getter.”