One year my younger brother—who is a humongous douchebag, by the way—came home on leave from Japan to celebrate 4th of July with my family at my dad’s house.
I’ve told you about these get-togethers before; they’re always fun, you know…especially after several beers. *Sarcasm*
Wouldn’t you know it: That brother of mine, seeing as we weren’t at his humble little Japanese abode and wouldn’t be lighting his lawn on fire, had brought home several of those trendy paper lanterns.
“I picked these up in Japan,” he said, drawing out the second “a” in Japan to last at least 5 minutes, nostrils flaring self-importantly as he pulled a couple of them out of his suitcase, almost exploding with pride as he showed off his well-traveled finds.
“Yeah,” his best friend said, opening his brown paper bag innocently. “I got some at the fireworks tent down the road, too.”
“I’ll bet mine are better,” my younger brother muttered.
My dad was outside when we started to light the fireworks, and he had the exact same reaction as I did when he feasted his eyes on the paper lanterns, which my brother and his best friend had saved for last—which was totally a great idea as it coincided with the drunkest part of the evening for those two. *Sarcasm*
“HELL no,” my dad said, snatching the lantern from my brother’s grasp. “You are not lighting these in my yard.”
My brother visibly deflated, not used to hearing the word “no” from my father’s mouth in several years since he had become my dad’s favorite after following in his footsteps and joining the military. “Aw, Dad,” he whined. “It’ll be fine. I’ll watch it.”
“Watch it?!” I supplied. “Watch it do what, light the damn tree on fire? Like you did that one time at Grandpa’s house? Remember that, Dad?”
“Shut up, Shay,” they both said in unison.
Somehow my brother convinced my dad to let him light one. Right as he was getting ready to do the honors, my dad’s neighbor of 20 years, Mel, scurried across the yard to watch.
We all turned toward him, surprised and momentarily forgetting about the lantern.
“What the hell are you doing here, Mel?” my brother asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Did you break up with your girlfriend or something?”
Mel blinked at us. “No, why?”
My brother shrugged. “It’s just that you’ve lived next door to Dad for 20 years, and not once have you stepped over the property line into our yard.”
It was Mel’s turn to shrug. “I come over and drink beer with your dad all the time when the weather’s nice. Always have. I just wait until you kids are all gone. You’ve always been so…feral….and who wants to be around that, right?” He shuddered. “But I saw you guys with that lantern and didn’t want to miss it. I’ve heard about these things. Plus, I’m out of beer and I'm bored.”
That was enough explanation for my brother, who was just happy to have someone on his side. He lit that motherfcker up, let it go…and 10 seconds later, it was stuck in the tree, all alight with fire.
“Goddammit, boy,” my dad growled.
I recognized the terror in my brother’s eyes, and for a fleeting moment, I felt sorry for him. My dad has always said that he didn’t care how old we were, he would still spank our asses for doing something stupid. Those are the words he’s actually used throughout the years, even as we've grown into adults: “I’ll still spank your asses.”
He says we get enough warning when his crazy eyes come out; it’s our own fault if we don’t run when we see them a-bulging. By now, in our mid-30’s, we know to take the fck off—or, if we’re trying to look cool in front of our friends, to shuffle backwards a few steps and then take the fck off—when we see the whites of them popping out.
We're all in pretty good shape; we can usually run long enough to wear the old man out to the point where his desire for a nap becomes much more powerful than his desire to teach us a lesson. Honestly, it only takes, like, a quarter mile jog at a light pace.
My brother started to back away. “Now, Dad, hang on…let’s just see what happens here…the tree’s not actually on fire…yet.”
My dad gritted his teeth and looked up at the tree. And wouldn’t you know it—Gramps must have been watching out for my brother that night—that lantern’s fire fizzled and sputtered out right before our eyes, no damage at all done to the tree. The lantern floated peacefully back down to the ground.
We all let out a collective sigh as my brother ran to grab the lantern before any residual damage could be done to the yard. My dad walked back to the house, but he stopped and turned before he reached the front door. “No more fireworks tonight, boys,” he said.
The crazy eyes were gone, but there was still a little—excuse my pun—spark in them that showed they could quickly be brought back with one small act of defiance. Even an innocent smoke bomb might have warranted a 31-year-old favorite child’s ass-whooping.
“Okay, Dad,” my brother and his best friend replied.
Ahhh…one of my favorite 4th of July memories—although it might have been even better if my little brother had gotten a spanking.
This is an actual picture of the damage--because of course I snapped 300 photos to use for when my dad starts waxing poetic about his favorite child, the one who joined the military. "Oh, the one who lit your tree on fire with the paper lantern that you quite sternly TOLD him not to light?" I'll say, flipping through the photo album that I always quite handily keep with me. "That one?"
It looks like something out of a damn horror movie, doesn't it?
And look at that photo edit job. I had to remove the side of someone's face for the sake of anonymity and to try to cover up the shitty job I did, I slapped my watermark over it. Can't see the lines, can you, Russ?
Happy 4th of July, peeps. Don't be a douchebag like my brother. Be responsible with those fireworks.