Regan Strehl

United States of America

Sparks to Flames

August 25, 2018

FREE WRITING

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I looked up into my dad's jovial face as he handed me the party-sized-bag of original Lays chips. The bag crackled, like fire, when I placed it in my lap. Two cherry pies were slipped into the foot space between my brother and I. My parents entered the car. The click of their seat belts was like a spark, igniting my enthusiasm. It was almost as if someone had flipped a switch, allowing me to fully realize what day it was. My brother's spark, however, had been ignited when he first opened his eyes. He continued to babble on beside me about the events taking place that afternoon.
    It was the fourth of July, and we could hardly wait.
    I believe that every family has their own special holiday: one that provokes the most home decorating, the most excited laughter, and occasionally the most property damage. For every family it is different. Some are very enthusiastic about Christmas, for example. However, for my family, it has always been Independence Day.
    When we pulled up to my Poppy's house, everyone else was already there. My Uncle Bood, my cousin Jeffrey, my kind-of-Uncle John, his wife Bethany, their kid Ash, and my Grandpa who we call Poppy. Hawkeye Shawn, Big Ron, my best friend Abby and her mom Faith. All are considered family, and it had been so long since we were together.
    I had my seatbelt off and was out of the car before dad could even finish parking. I ran with my crackling bag through the maze of lawn chairs and coolers up to the front door. I high fived Big Ron on my way inside.
    Halfway through the door and I was already swept up in a hug by my Uncle Bood. He had been in the middle of singing Jingle Bells as loudly as humanly possible. As soon as I was released from his grasp, kind-of-uncle John gave me a side hug. Neither one minded the bag of chips crackling between us. Ahead of me, Hawkeye Shawn relaxed on the couch, watching a rerun of an Iowa Hawkeye's football game. He wore a yellow Hawkeye's jersey with a matching baseball cap. We locked eyes and he raised his beer to me. I, lacking anything else, lifted my bag of chips.
    “ON HAWKEYES!” he shouted.
    A chorus of 'on Hawkeyes' filled the house with my voice rising among them. I dogged several more of my family members, who were all busy setting out fireworks and food, on my way out the back door. My shoes slapped against concrete as I walked down the steps. Jackie, Poppy's dog, barked a greeting to me, then continued on his quest to steal one of the hamburgers.
    Poppy stood at the grill wearing an old white t-shirt, blue jeans and green tinted mowing shoes.
    “Poppy!”
    He turned at the sound of my voice. Poppy took a moment to blink the smoke out of his eyes, then he leaned down and picked me up.
    “What'cha got there Rey?”
    “Chips Poppy! Do you have your half?”
    Poppy winked at me. He set me back down then called for Uncle Bood, whom he promptly handed the spatula to. Poppy led me inside to the refrigerator, which he started to rummage around in. I bounced on the balls of my feet in anticipation. Finally the wait was over. In his hand Poppy held the unopened container of French Onion Dip. We smiled at each other for a moment. Then came the ripping of plastic and consumption of the shattered salty crisps.
    Not long afterward we were all gathered in the living area of Poppy's home: eating burgers, chips, salad, and two cherry pies. Abigail sat and conversed with me while we ate. We talked about this and that, I don't really remember the topic. All I remember is that we laughed.
    When plates became empty and conversation subsided, Poppy asked a question.
    “Is everyone ready?”
    We were.
    Colorful flowers exploded, bottle rockets whistled, and the Pop-it's, well you guessed it...they popped. Two hours of this and the driveway looked like a war zone, and we its victims. Our clothes were singed in some places and we all smelled of smoke. At one point my mom picked up a discarded firework and set it ablaze. She chucked it at my kind-of-uncle with a careless joy, only to realize it was a fairly powerful firework. He yelped and jumped to the side as he collected yet another burn mark on his sock.
    A war started.
    I ran around among my family members as we scrambled for bottle rockets, lighters, and most importantly-cover. A ground-bloom flower spit out sparks as it spun faster and faster, backing Jeffery up against the front door. A bottle rocket zipped by my dad's ear and in between Mrs. Faith's legs. Bethany grabbed up my cousin Ash and pushed him to the side as a firecracker went off at their feet. Brian was loving it, cackling as he used his small size to come up behind people when they least expected it.
    I loved it too. That is, until the screaming started.
    “Get down! Get down! Get out of the yard!”
    I don't know who gave off the warning, I don't know who dropped it, but somehow a lit firecracker landed in the box of fireworks. The large box full of the big pretty ones that you set off at night. What's more, the box was somehow tipped over.  Aiming it directly at us.
    Everyone paused for a moment, including myself, as we stared into the mouth of the brown beast, trying to understand what the danger was. A spark of color flared up in the back of its throat, then it spit fire.
    Mom grabbed Brian, Dad grabbed me and all the other kids were picked up by someone else. Feet pounded and throats let forth an onslaught of fierce screaming that assaulted our eardrums. We ducked behind cars, bushes, and the like.
    Whistle...Pop! Whistle...Pop! Whistle...Pop! It seemed to last for hours but in reality it must have only been a few minutes. Mom held onto my wrist protectively, and dad had his big hands on my shoulders. The four of us hid behind Pop's white pickup truck until the beast spit its last stream of fire. When all was quiet we soundlessly emerged from our hiding places, looking in shock at one another. Had that really just happened?
    The remains of the beast lay charred at the entrance to the garage.
    Dad let out a sigh and whispered to my mom, “Do you think one of the neighbors are calling the cops?”
    “At this point I think they all are,” came her grave reply. I felt a tug at my sleeve. I looked over to see my brother quietly pointing at the Popsicle city; which was a few crude buildings made out of Popsicle sticks we had hot glued together.
    It was on fire. The orange and red flames licked the tiny buildings. Crackling as it melted the plastic toys that lived on the upper floors. Wood blackened and the structures fell. All the while the flames grew taller and taller.
    It was around this time that the cop car slowly pulled around the corner. The grown ups whispered among themselves as the officer climbed out of his car. He looked at all of us and slowly made his way up the driveway. Poppy emerged from the half circle we had formed around the fire. He walked over to the cop and they talked for a few minutes.
    The cop gave Poppy a warning, then got in his car and drove off. Poppy turned and slowly made his way back to us.
    When Poppy reached us he stared into all of our eyes for a moment. He cocked an eyebrow and was about to make a comment when a loud Pop! Pop! Pop! Rang out. I swear each and every one of us jumped five feet in the air. Our heads whipped around to see that little Ash now stood at the top of the driveway. A bag of Pop-it's in his hands, with a gargantuan grin splitting his face in two. He began to giggle, which somehow started a domino effect among us. Pretty soon we were all laughing, clutching our sides as the need to breath grew more urgent. I myself started to wheeze after a minute went by and still none of us could stop. My shoulders shook, spittle flew from my mouth, and finally a big fat tear rolled down my face. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my life.
 

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