Fireworks, fast cars, and potato salad
Originally published July 2, 2008
“Blind! Jimmy feels that his life is over. No more swimming. No more Scout hikes. How can he ever have fun again?" These words are on the back cover of Follow My Leader by James B. Garfield, a book that sat on my boyhood bookshelf along with a collection of Hardy Boy mysteries, and classic adventures like Treasure Island. I’m not entirely sure how it made its way to my collection, perhaps a hand-me-down from an older sibling, or more likely a piece of propaganda placed there by my mother.
It is the story of a boy who is left blind after a firecracker mishap and Leader is the name of the his seeing-eye dog. I think the intent of the book was to help kids have a better understanding of people with disabilities. My mother’s motives were quite different - to keep me away from fireworks.
According to family folklore my very first word was not “momma” or “doggy” but rather “dangerous.” This, no doubt, due to a list of warnings that began when I was a baby. “The stove his hot.” “Be careful, you could fall down the stairs.” As I got a little older the areas of caution expanded to safety instructions about bicycles and skateboards. By the time I left for college the list of dangers was expansive covering everything from fast cars and fast women to expiration dates on dairy products.
My mom’s intentions were good. She wanted to do what she could to make sure her only son stayed alive and healthy with all four limbs securely attached to his body . Mission accomplished. I didn’t heed ALL of her warnings but a few took root. Fear of fireworks is one of them.
I’m not sure of Jimmy’s story contributed to my phobia or not but the very fact that I remember it some 30-plus years later is probably a good indication that it did. I don’t mind being around the rockets red glare, it’s just that I don’t want to be the one lighting the fuse. My own children are young enough that when dad breaks out the sparklers and smoke bombs, they think we’re living on the edge. I’m sure as they get older they’ll push me to up the ante a bit.
July, of course, is all about backyard explosions; but another of my fears emerges this time of year - outdoor mayonnaise. I attended lots of picnics growing up. My step father was a pastor and we had an annual 4th of July picnic, often with 200 or more people in attendance. My mom would always caution me to steer clear of the potato salad and anything else with mayo in it. For years, when at picnics I would pass on anything that looked like it might have mayo in it.
I learned recently that my mom was wrong about this one. As it turns out, store-bought mayonnaise will not actually make you sick, even when left out in the sun for a couple of hours. University of Georgia Microbiologist Michael Doyle notes that there is sufficient acid (vinegar) in store-bought mayonnaise to keep harmful bacteria at bay. It might eventually spoil, resulting in an off-taste, but it will not make you sick (see the full mayo story here).
Learning this was pretty liberating. Since getting this new information, I’ve been a little more bold in filling my paper plate at picnics, dinners-on-the-grounds, and other outdoor eating occasions. I’m still not going to be launching any Roman candles or going to NASCAR fantasy camp but you may spot me enjoying a generous helping of picnic potato salad along with my baked beans and hotdog. Just don’t tell my mom. She’ll be worried sick.