A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


In retrospect, there really isn’t any way I could have started that fire.

Was there?

I mean, I had a pretty good arm back in those days – but not that good.

And the weed-infested field was at least 100 yards away – maybe 150. And the little sparkler that I threw – into a fairly stiff mid-summer breeze, mind you – just couldn’t have carried that far.

Could it?

To tell you the truth, I’m still not sure. All I remember is it was the 4th of July, the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. I was outside with my family setting off some fireworks – albeit begrudgingly.

"I still don’t understand why we have to do these little kiddie fireworks," I said as I applied a match to the end of another sparkler.

"Why can’t we fire off some Roman candles?"

"Because Roman candles are illegal in this state," Dad reminded me for the 957th time.

"It’s only a two-hour drive to the border," my brother-in-law Mike suggested. "I know a place where we can get some good stuff!"

Dad glared at Mike. "You wouldn’t be suggesting that we break the law, would you, Lieutenant?" he asked of my newly commissioned brother-in-law.

"No, sir," he said, smiling. "I was only explaining our options."

"Well, there’s only one option tonight, with all of the grandchildren here," Dad said. Then he looked at me: "Make the most of it."

That sounded like an order, so Mike and I proceeded to do just that. We staged battles with those little tank fireworks. We threw smoke bombs at each other. We blew holes in milk cartons with firecrackers. And we had a pretty good time. But we still lacked one thing.

"Boy, I wish we had some Roman candles," I told Mike. "They look so cool."

"Well, you heard your dad," he said. "Those sparklers are as close as you’re going to get to Roman candles."

Which is precisely when the idea occurred to me. A sparkler thrown into the midsummer night sky WOULD sort of look like a Roman candle, wouldn’t it? I lit one and threw it into the street. It arched nicely – almost Romanesque. I tried another, thrown a little higher and a little farther. Almost cool! Then I lit one more and threw it as high and as far as I possibly could. It hit . . . well, somewhere out there, and suddenly flames erupted in the field down the street.

I ran to the back yard, where Dad kept a bucket of water with which to douse used sparklers. I grabbed the bucket and ran toward the fire, sloshing water every step of the way. By the time I got there, the fire was already as tall and wide as my house – my little bucket of water only made it mad.

Eventually the entire neighborhood and at least three fire trucks responded to the fire. Thankfully, no one was hurt, and the only damage was to a little garden someone had planted on one corner of the lot. A neighbor claimed he saw some kids in the field playing with fireworks, and as far as the fire department was concerned that was the end of the investigation. Another case of dumb kids doing dumb stuff on the 4th of July.

And that’s probably true. But every year about this time I start to feel a little guilty about the incident. Should I have turned myself in? I hadn’t seen any kids other than me. Nor had I seen anyone playing with fireworks other than me. It’s just . . . there’s no way that I could have thrown the sparkler that far.

Is there?

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and