Black Cats and Lady Fingers




I have to remind myself as I write these blogs that many of the people who read them are not familiar with some of the provincial customs of the United States in general and the southern United States in particular.

Last Saturday, I was at Lake Bob Sandlin near Pittsburg, Texas, putting a line in the water in a vain attempt to entice catfish to bite.  In the distance, I heard a series of small explosions that sounded like gunfire. As I focused on this noise, I soon realized it wasn’t gunfire.

It was lady fingers.

You see, in the South we have a long tradition of celebrating certain holidays by igniting gun powder and blowing up things.  The Fourth of July is one of these occasions. I know. It’s a strange way to celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence,  but the South is a strange place.

I also forget sometimes that  many of you may not realize that I spent most of the first twenty years or so of my life working in the Log Cabin fireworks stand in Kilgore, Texas.

Which brings us back to lady fingers.  Lady fingers are a type of firecracker designed to make a good pop without maiming a person or causing a permanent loss of hearing.  They are miniature fireworks with a multi-colored wrapper and a short fuse.

All firecrackers have short fuses.  This adds to the excitement.  When one lights the fuse on a firecracker, one has few options.  Those options are basically either to run like hell, throw the firecracker at the friend closest to you or watch it as it goes off in your hand.

I have never known anyone who voluntarily selected  option three.  Option two is the most fun.  Option one is for sissies.

Real firecrackers, as opposed to lady fingers, are called by their brand name, Black Cats.  A Black Cat firecracker, if it goes off in your hand, will raise a blood blister the size of Amarillo, a city in the Texas panhandle. This makes it even more fun to hurl it at a friend.

When I was a small child, we also could purchase IEDs called a “cherry bombs.”  The cherry bomb got its name from the fruit because it was round and red.  It also had a short fuse.   Cherry bombs had only two uses that I can recall.  Either you built a miniature fort and attacked it with cherry bombs, or you made random terrorist raids.  Usually, and in violation of several federal laws, one would deposit the cherry bomb in a neighbor’s mailbox and wait the three seconds before it disintegrated into a cloud of metal dust.

So back to the lady fingers. When I heard a whole string of them go off at once, I knew someone had placed them on the ground and lit the fuse of the first one. Lady fingers are bundled together with the fuses interlaced.  This means if one lights the fuse to the first one, it creates a chain reaction so that all of the lady fingers explode one after the the other.

As everything does for a writer, the sound of those explosions reminded me that it is the things we know that form the fodder for what we put on paper.  Not everyone knows about lady fingers, which is what makes it fun to write about them.  It is one thing to say, “He heard a firecracker explode.”  It is another thing to describe lady fingers.

Happy Fourth of July season.  Try to keep all your fingers.


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