I grew up in the desert.

It’s funny, because when you think of Oregon, you think of rain. Supposedly; that’s never been my experience. When the humidity climbs over 40% I’ve had it. And we have “temperate summers” which when I was growing up meant a month or so with 100+ degree temperatures, when it was too hot for my dad to work so we’d climb, sticky-thighed, into the old yellow Ford truck and head for the lake.

Those were good trips. When you sat in the middle, you even got to work the shifter, while my dad did the clutch. It took me a while, when I was learning to drive, to remember that everything would be backwards-on to how I first shifted, as a kid whose feet didn’t even reach from the bench seat to the floor, gap teeth and yellow bikini, shoving that old stick as hard as I could.

Deserts are funny things, I guess: mine was never full of sand. I didn’t see a dune until I was twenty, driving my kid sister on one of what we’d planned to be annual road trips around the national parks. We were in Utah, down by Zion, and the dunes were as red as a sunset your phone camera won’t catch. It was before phone cameras so we didn’t even try, although we had one of those little polaroids that would make a stamp-sized photo with a sticker on the back.

My desert was full of trees, ponderosa pine and jeffrey pine and western white pine, with long cones oozing sap. Doug fir with mice trapped in the cones – the library had a summer reading program and one of the Native American locals would come and tell us his stories and I will never forget the one about how the mice got trapped in the fir cones.

See, Coyote was sleepy one day

You’re not interested in that. You want to know why this essay is called Six Feet. Well, that’s the maximum height, by local ordinance, of fireworks where I grew up. No town had municipal fireworks; there were no mortars, no thunderous booms. Those were an artifact of TVs and movies. We had about six fireworks:

The Tank.  This was useless at home, but if we went to Michelle’s house to do fireworks it was fine. The Tank shot fire out its rear to propel it on wobbly cardboard wheels until it eventually vomited fireballs out three front “cannons” and pushed itself almost as far back as it had run forward. The Tank was only good on concrete.

Those Snakes. You know what I’m talking about. My mother loves Those Snakes.

Smoke Bombs. Primarily useful for making other fireworks suck less. If you light a shitty short fountain but you’ve got two smoke bombs going already, you can kind of pretend it was cool.

Killer Bees. Seriously if you like Killer Bees and we’re friends on Facebook I’d be ok if you unfriended me. It’s a six-foot fountain with six screaming things on the side of it that make terrible noises. My sister loved it. It’s the worst firework. The colors aren’t good and it just screams and screams at you.

Ground Spinners. I’m cheating and putting two fireworks together: the little flat ones with a nubbin like a top, and the cylinders that would spin and hop. Both were useless unless, see above, we got to go to Michelle’s place, where all our parents would smoke a bunch of pot and light fireworks. Don’t worry. We always had a bucket of water so it was safe. stop rolling your eyes.

Fountains. Just, you know, generic fountains.

The thing about fountains was how disappointing they were. Fireworks are supposed to be, I don’t know. Impressive? Even as a little kid I knew there was something lacking in fountains.

Turns out it was the Six Foot Rule. Look. I’m an adult. And even as a kid I knew that it was a Very Bad Idea to light huge towers of sparks off in the desert, which burned down literally every year to the point where we always were ready for a friend to come stay so that their parents could stick around the house with a hose.

But

a six foot fountain of sparks that lasts for less than 20 seconds isn’t impressive even to a kid.

Except the year one fountain exploded, and flew higher than the roof.

That was the last year we had fireworks at home.

 

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