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Vocal Point: Short-lived sparkler provided lifelong story

Have you ever noticed how things are exaggerated in the retelling? One of Dad’s favorite stories was one he shared every Fourth of July since I was 6.

In 1951, we traveled north in our ’46 Plymouth from our home in Temple City, Calif., to Bellingham to visit my dad’s sister and family. The trek up Highway 101 took the better part of four days, but Aunt Jean’s home was worth the tedious drive.

We barbecued, swam in Lake Whatcom, drove to Mount Baker, and Vancouver, B.C., and then in the midst of our sojourn came Independence Day.

Just before the holiday, Dad and Uncle Jimmy took us to a fireworks stand. We bought the works. One would think we bought everything a boy could want, but I had my heart set on one more item.

I loved sparklers! I loved how the white sparks bounced off my arm without burning, how I could write my name in the air and draw intricate designs. So as Dad got ready to pay, I spotted one other item I had to have … a big, long sparkler, longer than my arm.

Dad balked at the extravagance, a $1 sparkler, but what can I say? I was the apple of his eye, born on his 28th birthday and obviously his favorite son. He relented – I had my prize.

On the Fourth we drove to a beach on Bellingham Bay. When it finally turned dark we began to explode our cache.

Fountains sprayed colorful showers, snakes coiled black ash bodies atop rocks. Firecrackers exploded. From the Roman candles we shot colorful fireballs out into the bay. The skyrocket and aerial bomb proved anticlimactic.

All the while I pestered Dad to let me light my big sparkler. I couldn’t wait. We lit the plain sparklers and I watched my cousins and brothers run around, then letting them fly in a high arced path into the bay. But it just wasn’t satisfying … they burned too quickly. I couldn’t wait any longer, I was ready to burst.

Finally, I held my colossus as Dad ignited it. I held it high, began to run, and then threw it high and far. A beautiful glow streamed behind, a perfect curve etched across the sky … until it disappeared into the bay … phhht! Barely two inches burned when it sank.

Thunderstruck, Dad spit out the words, “What did you do?”

As tears cascaded down my cheeks, Mom jumped to my defense, “Don’t you dare be mad! He just wanted to be like his brothers.”

So, what did it really cost? A $1 sparkler that burned two inches? Factor in inflation over 40 years and … Hey, Dad was right, a $100 sparkler! So my big, long sparkler became even more special to him. He treasured our story for the next 49 years, until he died in 2000.

Thanks, Dad, and you’re welcome!

James “Rocky” Curtiss recently moved to Spokane.