Victoria Day. A Canadian holiday honoring a long deceased Queen of Great Britain, whose reign was highlighted by an era of sexual repression despite the fact that she married her first cousin. It was better known by for us kids as fire cracker day, the day when families, friends, and neighbors would gather in a local public park and launch ‘Willows’, ‘Horsetails’, and ‘Roman Candles” straight up into the sky, creating an array of sight and sound that was met with a seemingly never ending chorus of ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’. In the time before fun and games were outlawed, we would race over to the local convenience store and purchase firecrackers, those wonderfully destructive little nuggets of joy and set them off at will. Sometime in the early 1960s, we lived the best Firecracker Day ever.
We had been saving whatever money we could get for what seemed like forever, stock piling pennies and nickles in order to hit the stores and buy as many firecrackers as we could. The time had finally come. It was Firecracker Day. We jumped on our bikes and heading off to the local stores, stopped at the fence at Passer’s Farm. We had been coming to this spot for years, leaving our bikes and climbing over the fence. We stood on top of Passer’s Ridge, as far away from the edge as possible. When someone shouted “Go.”, we ran as fast as we could, so fast that our legs seemed to move on their own, without any thought, spinning in circles, propelling us through the uncut grass, tearing each blade like a weed whacker, until we reached the end. And then we jumped, as high and as far out as we could with arms outstretched, soaring effortlessly through the clear, blue sky, if only for a few seconds, until we inevitably landed face first into the cool water of the pond. We laughed with our hands over our mouths, afraid that old man Passer would catch us and empty a round or two of buckshot into our backsides. When everyone had a turn, we left the same way we arrived, and continued on our mission.
Mighty Midget was beyond a doubt the best damn convenience store around. Popsicles, the insanely good banana flavor, and the hard to locate white ones, that I could never identify the flavor of, could be purchased 2 for a penny. Every year, just for Firecracker Day, Mr. Simkos would have one entire lined with fireworks and firecrackers, a sort of small explosive buffet. We knew what we wanted though, as many ‘Tom Thumb’s as possible, a few ‘Five Stars’, and at least 2 ‘Smoke Bombs’. With the goods stuffed into Steinberg’s brown paper shopping bags, and the shopping bags stuffed in out shirts, we headed over to field behind The Murray House to plan our Victoria Day extravaganza. It took some thought, discussion, and debate, but a plan was spawned.
Mrs. Eisen, who lived almost directly across the road from me was one hell of a bitch. She constantly shouted at us from her bedroom window, telling us to stop playing ball hockey as she was not feeling well. Almost every time we played, she bitched. She had even gone to our parents to report that we were keeping her awake, and were often seen on her property trying to retrieve the ball. This was quite troubling for her, as she had a pretty nice flower garden that she was certain we would destroy with our wandering onto her lawn. She had threatened to call the police on us on several occasions. Mrs. Eisen was a bitch, and we hated her.
That evening,that fateful evening when most of the neighborhood was waiting at Rockford Road Park for the annual fireworks display, we slipped away with our Tom Thumbs, and Smoke Bombs. We had strung rows of Tom Thumbs together, and laid them across the garden that proudly stood against the wall of the porch on Mrs. Eisen’s front lawn, and a Smoke Bomb was placed beside some rose bushes. After the countdown, and under the cover of the sound of the Roman Candles being launched at the park, we detonated the firecrackers. The resulting explosion was impressive, and quite devastating. The flower garden was gone. The only sign of its existence were the few surviving flower petals that lay discolored amid the remnants of the firecrackers in the dirt that had only minutes earlier houses an array of beautifully colored flowers of assorted varieties. The Smoke Bomb had done significant damage to the rose bushes, and while they still stood erect, the roses had been completely vanquished. There was not a trace of them. We marveled in our handiwork, and then ran like hell, returning to the park to join in the fireworks party, and hopefully, to establish an alibi.
Sadly, once the light show was complete, and everyone returned home, Mrs. Eisen arrived at my house and stood on the porch accusing me of the wanton destruction of her beloved garden. My mother informed her that she would get to the bottom of it, and have it fixed. When I heard her call my name, I knew that the jig was up. I was busted. “Give me all of your firecrackers.”, she demanded.
“I don’t have any more.”, I told her.
“I want you to go and get all of your firecrackers and bring them to me now.”, she said. “Don’t make me ask you again.” I wandered off to my room, as if in slow motion, and returned with bags of firecrackers, 2 Five Stars, and 1 Smoke Bomb, which I handed over to her. “What were you thinking?”, my mother asked. “You blew up her garden!”.
“I was thinking that she’s a mean, old bitch.”, I answered. “She deserved it.”
“You are going to pay to replace the garden, and you will replant every single flower that you destroyed.”, my mother informed me. “And starting right now, you will not be running around with those hooligan friends of yours.”
“It has nothing to do with my friends.”, I said. “It was all my idea. I’m the one who did it.” For some reason, my father felt that he needed to get involved. I thought my mother was handling the entire situation brilliantly, however, the old man just couldn’t stop himself from offering his expertise in punishment and justice.
“You can keep your friends.”, the old man said, “but only if you get them to help you pay for and repair the garden you destroyed. If not, they’re not your friends and you will not be spending any time with them. Am I clear.”
“Yes, sir.”, I said, afraid to look him in the eye.
“Oh”, he continued. “And I have locked your bicycle up in the basement. You won’t be needing it for a while.”
“How do you feel about what you did to Mrs. Eisen now?”, my mother asked.
I had to think about it for a moment, but it really didn’t seem so bad. No money, no friends, no bicycle and working in the old bitches’ garden for free. Yeah, it was worth it.
“Pretty good.”, I answered. I completed the garden repair and replanting in record time, and in all modesty, it looked better than it did before. As I stood from my side of the street and looked across at the old bitches’ garden, I knew that I would , more than likely, do it again next Firecracker Day. And for the record, I got my bike back in about a week or so. Mighty Midget closed up shop, and was replaced by a Chinese Food Restaurant. I was pretty sure that they could help out with the firecrackers if I was stuck. Frank Passer finally gave in and sold his farm. On the site of our beloved Passer’s Ridge, they built one of those Golden Arches restaurants, a bank, and 2 or 3 high rise apartment buildings. Passer’s Pond was drained and filled. The Murray House was destroyed, and replaced by houses and apartment buildings, and Mrs. Eisen sold her home, and moved to live with her daughter Tina, the street slut who had recently given birth to a child whose father she couldn’t be sure of. On the day she left, my brother and I headed over to that fucking garden and, using firecrackers I had recently purchased from Mr. Wong at the Chinese Restaurant, blew the shit out of every single flower.
I am significantly older now, and while I have no urge to head down to Ashbridges Bay, or Ontario Place, or Wonderland to witness the incredibly sights and sounds of the professional fireworks display this city puts on, I still have a fondness for the day. Years ago my wife was warned by my mother to keep both of her eyes on me, as I am, as she said, ‘a mischievous little shit who should not be left unsupervised’. My wife has been on top of it for many, many years, but I have always been able to keep firecrackers hidden from her. And on Victoria Day, while the country celebrates the life and reign of the incestuous Queen, I will be wandering around my neighborhood in search of a suitable flower garden to detonate.