I spent July Fourth in Duluth. I can’t imagine there are too many people who don’t enjoy Duluth — well maybe if you hate winter. That cold weather does hang on a bit up there. In the summer and fall, it is an amazing place to be.

Both Rochester and Duluth do a great job with fireworks, however there is much to be said about those fireworks over the Lake Superior harbor.

Families have their Fourth of July traditions. I’m still thankful I survived unscathed shooting off firecrackers in my youth, mostly unsupervised. I believe that all of us who grew up years ago have fireworks stories, hopefully not involving injury. Possibly imagining what could have happened is why I hardly ever shot off fireworks as my two kids grew up.

Recently I talked to a couple of my cousins on the phone. They are sisters. With each of them our conversation veered to the Fourth of July. They each reminded me of how much their dad loved July Fourth. They don’t remember why, but there was no doubt he enjoyed celebrating, in particular with fireworks.

They never drove into town for a fireworks show. They had their own on the farm in rural Kansas. Their dad would buy all sorts of fireworks leading up to the Fourth and would always keep some in stock just for fun. Both cousins clearly recall their dad shooting off Roman candles while holding them with his hands. (Do not do this at home.)

I recall my family driving down from Minnesota and visiting our Kansas kinfolk during the Fourth of July on a few occasions. The Fourth was always a day of fireworks, cold watermelon, and — if we got lucky — homemade ice cream that we helped churn until our shoulders hurt.

Cherry bombs were placed under coffee cans, and sparklers were burned off one after another. I remember us kids waving those sparklers around and around on a hot, humid Kansas evening under the loud hum of Kansas bugs.

I was blowing off Black Cat firecrackers as fast as I could light them. Ignite the fuse and run. I placed firecrackers in my aunt’s metal clothesline poles, on my plastic army men, and I might have even blown up a very large June bug or two. A few might have been placed in a mailbox. I suppose that could have been a federal offense.

My one cousin said there may have even been some throwing of the firecrackers at each other. I refuse to affirm this and have no memory. Every now and then when reminiscing with family, you hear some great family stories.

One July Fourth, the families of all four Conger siblings (my mom’s family), which also include nine kids (my cousins and me), gathered at my Aunt Velma's and Uncle Toots' farm. My cousin recalled that two of my uncles (one was her dad), slid a cookie sheet with a few firecrackers on it under the bed of another uncle and aunt early in the morning. Right before they slid it under the bed they lit the fuse and then all heck broke loose.

My one aunt verified this story, but my other aunt, who was the one in the bed, did not recall this incident. Now, this was 50 years ago, so who knows. The aunt who recalled this incident said my uncle on the receiving end was not happy, while his brother and brother-in-law were giggling to beat the band. My aunt said there were threats that the sheriff would be called.

A second story was that on another July Fourth their dad started a big bale of hay on fire with some wayward fireworks. The fire was put out before it spread, but a memory was made that day that will be passed down to grandkids. It’s better and much safer now, as most of us let the qualified experts do the shooting off of fireworks.

This year my family spent a couple of days in Duluth over the July Fourth holiday to celebrate the high school graduation of my nephew. He is a fine young man who now will head to Lake Superior College. It’s a celebration when families and friends gather together to support a graduate.

I guess in a sense my nephew is celebrating a first step in his independence. Add to that witnessing fireworks handled by professionals, it was all good.

Loren Else lives in Rochester and also writes the Post Bulletin’s Day in History column. Send comments and column ideas to Loren at news@postbulletin.com.

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