Nighttime creatures respond unfavorably to our July 4th fusee pyrotechnics

Published 12:00 am Sunday, July 3, 2011

For the past several years, I have become accustomed to seeing a large display of Consumer Fireworks (known as Class C Fireworks, when I was a child) at the local Food Lion store in the weeks leading up to the July Fourth holiday.
These displays always include the sort of fireworks that emit a shower of sparks, the misuse of which might lead to a burn at the most, but not a subtraction of digits, as was possible with the ěcherry bombsî and the ěM-80sî with which I grew up.
These current ělegalî fireworks are actually prettier than some of the explosive stuff that I had as a child, but not all of it. I also had things that didnít explode, but which were quite aesthetic, such as Roman candles and those wonderful little bottle rockets with the name ěBlack Cat,î which made an almost subtle wisping noise with their red sparks as they ascended into the darkness from a soft-drink bottle.
I also had firecrackers of that same name, as well as some of the 4- to 6-ounce skyrockets. When those skyrockets had reached their summit, a couple of colored ěstarsî would burst forth from their cones, disappearing as they fell and cooled.
Most of the time, I would be sufficiently equipped for the Fourth if my neighbor, Mr. W.A. Cline, who owned a gravel-hauling business, had made a recent run to South Carolina, bringing back both firecrackers and sky rockets.
I remember some times in which I was not so well- equipped , but since my father worked for Southern Railway, another type of ěpyrotechnicî device could be relied upon ó the ěfusee.î
On the railroad , a fusee is a flare used for signaling. Those which I remember had a spike on the end opposite the flame so they could be stuck into the ground.
On occasion, when no fireworks from South Carolina were available for the Fourth of July, my father would bring some of these fusees home. On the railroad, these would be ignited and placed near the tracks as a warning of some situation ahead.
In our case, an instrument of warning became an instrument of celebration.
We would stick one end of the fusee into the ground and ignite the upper end by removing a designated section of that end, striking it against the flammable solid of the flare, sort of similar to the way a match is lit.
A red flame, four or five inches in length would burn for about 15 minutes, with smoke rising up as a byproduct. I think this smoke was white, but during the nighttime, it appeared to be red from its reflection of the burning flame below. Nothing burst forth into the air from that fusee except that steady flame, so it was sort of like a half-hearted Roman candle, lacking the sufficient amount of inspiration to go farther than what it was.
Down the outside of the burning fusee would come rolling a hot paste, resembling molten cement. This was the spent fuel of the fuseeís fire. In looking at it as it poured down, I was wary, knowing that if I accidently touched that bubbling paste, I would have received a burn of the third degree.
Although some distance from the tracks on that early 1960s evening of July 4th, with several fusees giving off their red glow, my front yard somewhat resembled the railroad yard at Spencer.
As I watched the fusees burn in celebration, I noticed something moving on the ground below. The fuseesí light seemed to be upsetting things which wander about on the surface of the earth during the night.
We often see things moving around beneath our feet, which we take for granted during the hours of daylight, thinking that their wanderings are basically like ours, diurnal , their activity ceasing not long after sunset.
On that late Fourth of July evening, in the very early 1960s, beneath those lit fusees in my yard, I observed the normally seen daytime spiders and beetles moving about in that ignited light in an agitated sort of fashion. To me, it seemed that with these tiny creaturesí jerky, erratic movement, they were expressing some consternation towards this unscheduled light, which had suddenly revealed their nighttime wanderings to the eyes of other creatures not of their kind.