I had plenty of opportunities growing up to indulge my boyish interest in pyrotechnics; my grandfather built a fireworks factory. I tagged along with my dad to the factory on many a Sunday morning mostly in silence. The few words spoken, "don't touch that," "get away from there," broke through his meditative silence at random intervals – enough to keep me on edge. The musky smells of chemicals, papers and dirt, combined to fill the office with the well recognized odor of my dad's job. You could say it stunk but it smelled like incense to me.
His office desk, shelves and floor were scattered with paper tubes, paper disks, stars and bits of green and black fuse. I stuffed them into my pockets as he focused on the newspaper, cigarette smoke rising from his fingertips. That office was as close to the factory as I could get, besides an occasional walk to the "smoke room" for a snack and a coke from the machines. it was just what it was called, a place for workers to smoke, and they all did – a lot. It smelled of cigarettes, urine and burnt fireworks.
The only other soul at the factory on a Sunday morning was the watchman. There was always a watchman. I thought he lived in the smoke room. He always talked to me, and showed his bad teeth and wrinkled face when he smiled. He usually smelled too, with that factory smell and BO. I liked him.
I remember my first attempt at making my own firework. I tried to reload a parachute into a new tube. I took the lift powder from some other firework, loaded it carefully and then refolded and stuffed the parachute in my tube like a piece of wadding into the barrel of a musket. I lit the fuse and sent the fireball into the bushes of our back yard. As usual, dad pulled up just as I was putting out the last embers. "What the hell ya doin'?" he yelled. "Uhhhh…nothin'." That's all he said, but I'm sure I could see him smile as he went into the house.