• J.W.Photography from Annapolis

I wasn’t always ambivalent about Independence Day. At one time I saw it as the greatest of holidays, as long as you had explosives.

True, fireworks stores in Michigan, where I grew up, weren’t allowed to sell real firecrackers. But everybody occasionally passed through Indiana on the way to Chicago, and I realized the value of having relatives to visit in Missouri the year I got my grandfather to aid and abet my purchase of a brick of Black Cats.

Plus, as I learned from my best neighborhood friends—whom I’ll call the Cline brothers, in case there are unsolved arsons in western Michigan from the 70s and 80s—even a trip to the local department store could be fruitful. At one point the Clines were implicated in an “accidental” fire that charred the garage door of a neighbor who happened to yell at the brothers a lot. They’d been forced to work off the cost of the damage, but out of the incident had come a discovery: if you scraped a few sparklers down to the wire and combined the silver dust with the powder extracted from a few otherwise boring fountain fireworks, the mix was capable of blowing up an ant hill, a G.I. Joe action figure, or a little sister’s Barbie doll.

This was a spectacular sight to behold.