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Rockets' red glare and a lie if you dare

A father and son pull into the dusty parking area and walk, eyes wide, into the tent full of colorful boxes.

"Daddy, what are we doing here?"

"Buying fireworks, son."


"To make lots of noise to celebrate our independence?"

"When I make a lot of noise you tell me to shut up."

"You aren't independent yet . . . and shut up."

The questions can only get better.

Any enterprising kid would ask, "What's that you are signing?"

"Some paper I have to sign to buy the fireworks that says I am only going to use them for agricultural purposes and to scare birds away from my fish farm."

"But we don't have a fish farm."

"But we might some day, and if we start scaring the birds now it will make it easier when we do, besides, it's just something you sign . . . and shut up."

"Daddy? If you sign something saying you have a fish farm and you don't, isn't that a lie? And if you have to lie to do something, how free are you?"

You explain that some kinds of lying are traditional, adding, "and shut up."

"So the whole thing about George Washington and the cherry tree was . . . ?"

"An allegory, and a fictional story."

"You mean another grown-up lied about George Washington not lying? And George Washington really lied."

"Of course he did, he was president, you have to lie to be president otherwise you never get to be president or stay president."

"But didn't they try to get Bill Clinton fired for lying?"

"Yes, but that was different."

"Oh, because he lied under oath?"

"No, because he was a Democrat."

But on to more immediate matters:

"Why are noise and bright lights so important to celebrate freedom?"

"Because our national anthem mentions "the rockets' red glare,' and "the bombs bursting in air.' "

"Does getting freedom always have to be noisy?"

"Almost, especially when the people getting freed aren't all that enthusiastic about being freed."

"What about those black people sitting there waiting for someone to serve them lunch. They weren't making any noise."

"No, but a lot of other people were."

"I thought they outlawed fireworks where we live in Pinellas County."

"They did, but it won't take effect until August when people will only be buying them for legal reasons _ or to stock up for next year. When they won't be able to buy them for the Fourth but will have forgotten who made them illegal."

"Why will they forget?"

"Because we have short attention spans. It's another tradition, and it's how people get elected to and stay in public office."

"I know, I thought I remembered there being a house where the vacant lot is next door."

"There used to be one there, but it burned down last year in a fireworks accident."

"So when Mr. Bubba said what he said, he was observing a tradition?"

"I was too busy grilling the hamburgers, what did he say?"

"He said, "Hey, want to see something neat?' and then he said, "Here, hold my beer,' and then there was a loud bang, and fire engines came."

"Yep, that sounds like old Bubba, he used to say that a lot."

"Where does his family live now."

"I think they moved to Pasco County where they can still buy fireworks."

"Do they have a fish farm?"

"I don't know. Hey, want to see something neat? Here, hold my . . ."