When last we visited the Penwasser family.....
My father swallowed the pull tab from a can of beer, my brother decided that a Donny Osmond doll would be the perfect play toy for Duke IV, and Uncle Jim belched. But, at least the cole slaw was protected from further violation by winged vermin.
And, now, the conclusion of "Once Upon a Time on the Fourth of July"...
“Hey, guys! Look at these.”
We turned to see our father holding his lighter to a handful of small metal sticks. They looked like those things you lit to keep mosquitoes away, but these were silver. They looked like-
“Sparklers! Can’t be the 4th of July without them,” he proudly proclaimed. Almost on cue, they each burst into a shower of sparks. Carefully separating them, he passed them to my brother and me.
Phil and I marched around the yard, cutting circles of light and “writing” our names in the dark with the little flares. Tiny white sparks flew from their ends to fall harmlessly onto the grass. We could feel them hit our forearms, but they did nothing more than tickle our skin.
Handing us two more when the first couple winked out, my father warned, “Watch where you lay them and, whatever you do, don’t touch ‘em. They’re friggin’ hot. Hey, where’s your sister and little brother?”
Sticking his sparkler in the ground to form a “force field,” Phil answered, “I think Gary’s asleep in front of the TV.”
“And Kathy’s playing with the dog.”
“Well,” my father winced as he rubbed his stomach, “if they come outside, give them a couple. I’m going in-I don’t feel too good all of a sudden.”
With that, he handed us the rest and joined the adults as they headed into the house.
I lit two more and stuck them in the ground. Together with the ones already burned down to a glowing orange, they did look like some kind of force field.
We turned to see Kathy trudging in from the front of the house. It looked like she’d finally won her game of fetch with Duke. Despite looking a little worse for the wear, she held a mangled Donny Osmond by his feet.
“OK, who thought it would be funny to feed my dolls to the dog?”
Before we could answer, a dark form bolted from the shadows. Kathy, hearing the drumbeat of paws behind her, immediately brought the doll to her chest. “No, Duke, no!” she snapped.
Her protests were unnecessary, though, because Duke flew by her toward us. And our “force field.”
Without hesitation, Duke snatched up a sparkler. A shower of little white sparks wreathed her snout and bounced off her head. Still thinking we were having a game of fetch, she hunched down and playfully growled at us.
As I feinted left, she dodged towards a lunging Phil. But, the dog was too quick; neither one of us could grab her. Tail wagging and head bobbing side to side, Duke jumped a few feet away from us.
As we attempted to wrestle our dog to the ground, we heard, “OK, Buttons, just a few minutes. Then we have to go to bed.”
Uh, oh. Again.
Duke’s ears swiveled like a radar dish. Her tail stopped its mad waving and the hairs on her back stood upright. She cocked her head and waited for the inevitable.
Almost immediately came that obnoxious yip-yip-yipping followed by an overconfident snarl. As if shot from a gun, Duke and sparkler lit off towards the Spinelli yard.
The only thing we could see in the darkness was the trail of the sparkler as it cart wheeled around a series of high-pitch yelps. Luckily for Buttons, its brilliance helped her avoid her pursuer.
Sensing Duke was nearly on her, she found a place to hide.
The Spinellis’ new tent.
Undaunted, Duke dove after Buttons, the lit sparkler still dangling from her muzzle.
Phil and I were confronted by a frantic Mr. Spinelli. “Why can’t you people keep that vicious animal on a leash? Oh, my poor Buttons!”
Deciding against reminding him that we were out here first, I assured Mr. Spinelli I’d save his baby from the “devil dog.”
When I heard the deep-throated bark of my dog, I froze. Oh, that’s not good. If she can bark, what happened to the sparkler?
With a yip and a bark, the two dogs tumbled out of the tent. They were playfully nipping at each other’s flanks and chasing the other’s tail. Wow, never saw that coming! All Duke ever wanted was to be friends with the neighbor dog.
Then I noticed she didn’t have the sparkler.
Before I could move, I saw the silhouette of a cot bathed in faint orange against one of the tent walls. Immobilized, I gawped as the outside instantly changed from dark green to a sheet of gold.
With a strangled cry, Mr. Spinelli raced to his garden hose reel. Babbling, he aimed the nozzle toward the growing wall of fire and squeezed. But, the hose wheezed a short puff of air, nothing more.
By the time he connected the nozzle to the faucet on the side of his house, the entire tent was engulfed in flames. Shreds of fiery canvas waved in the summer night breeze and the aluminum frame reached into the night sky like a twisted black skeleton.
Just as I started to ask if it was too late to get a hotel room in Maine, a blood-curdling screech rang from our upstairs bathroom.
The garden hose hanging uselessly in his hands, Mr. Spinelli caught his breath. “What in the world was that?”
“I’m not sure,” I said, as the remains of the tent collapsed into a pile of ashes, “but I think my father just found out what happens when you swallow a pull tab.”