American Culture

Independence Day

by Terry Hargrove

The last time I purchased fireworks was July 4, 1991. My daughter Katie was 3, and we were all in mourning after the death of our beloved shih tzu, Solo, who just fell over dead earlier that week. Now, I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t think it’s right to bury dead pets. Only humans bury their dead, and I don’t need to remind you of how weird they are. It’s not Nature’s way. You should take the departed companions out to the country and let them decompose naturally. Of course, when I suggested this, you can imagine the groans of shock and dismay. So we gave him an unnatural burial in the back yard. Nature was on my side however, because something, some woodland varmint, kept digging his body back up.

“He’s not dead, daddy, he’s just tired and he needs a bath,” Katie pleaded.

“No, honey, he’s dead,” I explained. “See? He’s not moving.”

“He’s tired because you keep burying him. It wears him out to dig out, so he sleeps. Let’s take him back inside.”

“Honey,” suggested my wife, “Why don’t we go get you a new dog, OK?”

“OK.” And just like that, poor Solo was left to the varmints. The three of us went into Chapel Hill and drove until we saw this sign:


The word GOOD was marked out. Not a —- sign. I wondered what breed of dog I was going to bring home.

“That’s a puppy?” I asked. “It weighs 50 pounds.”

“It was a puppy,” said the farmer. “You shoulda gotten here sooner.”

“What kind of dog is it?”

“I know the bitch was a beagle,” said the farmer. “And the sire wasn’t.”

And so, we adopted Kibbles, a mutant dog who looked like a beagle from the shoulders back, but his neck, as thick as my thigh, ended in a head that resembled a ferret’s. Normally, it takes several days to gauge a dog’s personality, but with Kibbles, five minutes was enough. He loved Katie, and would allow her to sit on him, roll on him, ride him like a pony. He tolerated other humans. Every other creature he attacked, but his was a futile offensive, because his head was so small, his teeth couldn’t do any damage. So he became the incredible, head-spearing dog.

After all the excitement of the week, (and because it was Independence Day) I thought Katie might enjoy some fireworks. We put Kibbles in the car and headed to Columbia, well known for its manly and illegal fireworks vendors. I bought bottle rockets, sparklers, various other Chinese explosives, and a 10 pack of Roman Candles.

Now, fireworks were a risky venture in Hargrovia. My father-in-law had given us the lot, two acres in the middle of a 12-acre corn field, and he continued to plant corn around our house. July is a dry month in Tennessee, and that July was no exception. The cornstalks whispered to each other in the dry wind. I had a dozen towels soaking in a tub of water, just in case. When it was dark, I followed the directions on the packet, placed the Roman Candle in a bottle in the center of our front yard, lit the fuse and ran away. There was a hiss of gunpowder, a spray of sparks, a sputtering, then glorious balls of light that shot into the air sometimes as high as 10 feet. Katie was entranced.

Kibbles was not. He went nuts and began a furious barking at the offending incendiary. The fiery orbs continued. Kibbles ran to the bottle, bit the Roman Candle, and ran off with it. Suddenly, we were under fire, as a flaming fusillade bounced off the house, the car, my face. I tried yelling at Kibbles, but that just sent him into a panic, and he headed to the back yard with the candle still spitting sparks and fire.

“The corn! The corn!” screamed my wife. “The corn’s on fire!”

It was. Tiny but growing flames sprouted in at least four places, but I didn’t have time to stop. I couldn’t catch Kibbles. He went to the back end of our property and suddenly was face to face with a coyote who stood with the dead body of Solo in his mouth, amazed at this pyrotechnic display. Kibbles head-speared the coyote who yelped, ignited, and loped away. He came back in three seconds, grabbed Solo’s remains, and, still smoldering, headed back into the cornfield. Kibbles dropped the dying firework, took a long and satisfied gaze at the carnage he’d created, then ran back to the front porch to sit beside Katie. I ran into the cornfield with the towels to put out the flames. Twenty minutes later, I emerged, covered in soot and sweat, and staggered to the front porch. There Katie sat, with such a look of wonder and joy. Kibbles sat obediently beside her, waiting.

“Daddy!” Katie exclaimed in breathless amazement. “That was beautiful! And we’ve still got nine Roman Candles left.”

Since then, I’ve left the fireworks to the professionals. Kibbles passed away in 1992, his life as spectacular and brief as the Roman Candles he hated so much. But I think his spirit is still out there somewhere. I buried him in Solo’s empty grave, a plot we all remembered for its inability to constrain the departed.

4 replies »

  1. The images of the dog with the fireworks and the coyote with the other dog’s body — too much. The last line is a killer.

    . . . a plot we all remembered for its inability to constrain the departed

    Your best yet.