My father loved fireworks. My brothers tell me that before I came along, he would, each Fourth of July, take a babies’ bathtub out on the crabgrassy front lawn and fill it with water from the hose. Then he’d put into it a thing from his lab: sodium metal, a highly toxic, explosive-in-water substance. The sodium metal would skitter all around on the surface like a water bug, and then explode with a terrific noise. My father and four brothers found this all kinds of fun. Then my father would set off the actual fiery fireworks, and the festivities would go on.
Well, it happened once that the toilet in our single bathroom got blocked up. My dad decided to try to unblock it using sodium metal. He put a piece in the toilet, stuck a big rock in on top of it to keep it down, went out, and closed the door. Right away there was a big explosion! He opened the door and, litte boys craning all about him, peered in. Porcelain shards were everywhere! And water! And whatever!
For nine months nobody did anything about there being no working toilet. My brothers cannot remember – perhaps they’ve shut it out – what people did in the meantime. Finally my dad bought a second-hand toilet somewhere. I don’t know what shape it was in then; by the time I came along and was reasonably conscious it looked like an artifact dug from a bog. (The first time I ever saw a clean toilet – I was maybe four years old – was at a neighbor’s. I assumed it was new, and thought how rich they must be, to have a new toilet!)
Perhaps my mother laid down the law, for all the Fourth of July celebrations I remember took place at a park across town. We kids, carrying picnic and paper plates in paper bags, would trail after our father, who carried a watermelon in his arms. On and on along the hot sidewalks we’d trudge… and finally reach the green oasis where we’d find a gentle rise, and eat, and lie back back gazing at the silent showering lights coming down seemingly on top of us, but actually into the lake nearby. The air was warm, our tummies full of apple pie from the Day-Old Bakery. Out mother never came with us.