We are certainly not driving south on Interstate 85 to cross the border to buy Roman candles — which are legal in that Carolina, but outlawed in ours. Here, you can buy sparklers, and not much else. There, you can probably buy howitzers. But no matter: That’s not what we’re up to. We’re just driving 125 miles to grab a quick lunch, looking for a restaurant in Kings Mountain called Blackwood’s Drive-In. Blackwood’s is the self-professed Home of the Lottaburger. I don’t know what that is, but as a general rule, the boys like burgers. I like burgers. Everybody likes a two-hour drive with small children. The fact that Kings Mountain is within eight miles of the border has nothing to do with anything. At all.
Earlier that week, discussing pyrotechnics with my wife, I said, “North Carolina doesn’t want you to have the fun kind.”
“That,” she said, “or South Carolinians don’t mind getting their fingers blown off.”
Greensboro is the fireworkingest place I’ve ever lived. Fireworks are our searchlights. We fire off professional (and therefore permissible) displays from concert venues, car dealerships, malls, waterparks, and higher-end fifth-grade graduations. We have Fourth of July shows. We have makeup dates for the rained-out Fourth of July shows. The baseball team, delightfully overeager, celebrates Friday nights, Saturday nights, home runs, and the national anthem — with fireworks. Even the universities get in on the action. It is no exaggeration to say that on any given summer evening, you might not have to try terribly hard to find big-boy, full-bore fireworks around here — which is among the city’s finest features.
We bought our house, in fact, partly for its proximity to the stadium. I can watch the ballpark fireworks from my front porch. But we bought the house before we had kids. Before we had our older son, who’s turned out not to be a big fan of big noise. He is anti-thunderstorm. Anti-firework. His little brother, though? Here is the difference between them: When I break out the coffee grinder in the mornings, The Toad, now 5 years old, flees the room, hands over his ears. The Wee, age 2, claps and dances, asks for more.
I’m sorry, The Toad! Sorry for your firework of a brother, for the house with its hundred-year-old windows rattling in their casings after the game, for living on a Piedmont plain that offers up few truly severe summer storms, but all manner of crash and bang. Your grandfather once sat me down in front of a screen door at the height of a massive thunderstorm, held me tight in his lap while wind blew rain through the metal screen — a smell and taste I can recall right now — and converted me to loud. Forever. Fireworks included. Might we find some way to make a convert out of you?
Your brother, of course, will need no shock therapy. He loves loud. Or youd, as he’s been saying. He’ll point at the drill, at the vacuum, up at the sky, and yell YOUD! YOUD! Meanwhile, you, if you’re awake, huddle elsewhere, presumably with the guardian ghost-angel of our first dog, who also hated all things youd.
It is a delicate dance around here, the youd versus the not-youd.
I’m not even certain, at first, that I’ll be able to stand up inside Blackwood’s: The white-brick building is that small. (We didn’t hazard the actual drive-in part of the deal; 2-year-olds do not eat in-car.) But the Lottaburger is a thing of a certain kind of beauty: two patties, side by side, on a seeded hoagie bun. Two slabs of tomato. Half a cup of creamy slaw. Pickles. It is delicious. It is a catastrophe. I am right away glad for having brought the kids a change of clothes.
Also, there are onion rings. Fried corn nuggets. Our waitress, who is wearing a Wonder Woman T-shirt, tells the boys that she in fact is Wonder Woman — and they are delighted to believe this. We try hard to spend $20 and don’t even come close. We had to wait to get a table at 3 in the afternoon. There are paper plates and Styrofoam cups. Ice cream and milkshakes. I love this place with a sparkling fierceness, is what I’m trying to say. It is a dive, in the holiest sense of that word.
We eat and go home. We do not drive any farther south. Which means, of course, that the fireworks we light that night — it is the season, after all — are the kind you can buy from any number of pop-up tents at North Carolina gas stations this time of year. They are plain. Mainly safe. And fairly quiet, I assure The Toad. There’s still plenty of magic to it, though, as we light the fuse, cover our ears, and watch the sky. The ground, I mean. Nothing that leaves the ground is legal here. Not for civilians, anyway. I pull both boys close — the one who’s scared, the one who’s not — and, with our bellies full, we watch the ground.
Click here to read the rest of Drew Perry’s “Field Trip” columns.