You could see the Disneyland fireworks from our garage roof, but to get up there you had to climb onto a six-foot high fence that was perpendicular to the garage and then, in my case at the time, jump up from the fence—a leap of faith—and land with the top half of your small skinny body lying flat while your “wittle wegs” (as Elmer Fudd in a Bugs Bunny cartoon would have said) dangled. Then you crawled using only your arms until you could get one leg up over the drain gutter that circumscribed the otherwise tar-and-gravel roof. Climbing down was even worse. If you were me, you lay on your belly and backed off, ever so gradually lowering your legs and feeling with the toe of one Keds sneaker for the slightest trace of the two-by-four that ran along top the fence. Eventually, clinging to the drain gutter by your hands at your waist, you scooted backward until more of your weight was off the roof than on and fell, hoping to land a foot on the fence and balance there by aid of your tight grip on the gutter. Being a kid wasn’t always easy, don’t you remember?
So did the parents who let us do this love us? You could make a case for “no.” But in truth, our mother occasionally threatened to slap us “into the middle of next week” if she caught us on the garage roof again. So for a few days we wouldn’t get up there. But Disneyland shot off fireworks at nine o’clock during most of summer, and our best view was from the roof. Yet, never mind the fireworks, we craved being up on that roof. I won’t say it was like a playhouse, certainly not of the treed variety. Our tract of one-story homes was new, flat, treeless if you didn’t count three-foot twiggy saplings. The roof was akin to a planet that couldn’t support life. I don’t know what drew us up there in the midday sun, which made tar and gravel singeing to bare young skin. But at night Disney’s fireworks definitely were the draw.
Home fireworks were legal in California, so on the Fourth of July our father became Walt Disney, taking fireworks from a large boxed assortment bought at a Kiwanis Club stand and placing them around the lawn, while Mother and my brother and sisters and I sat in webbed folding chairs at a safe distance, usually with sweaters on against the chill of the California evening. Dad lit a firework, and it spewed colored sparks like a small fountain while we oooed and aaaed, wanting—as kids do—not to be disappointed. There’d be the Smokey Joe, and Dad would disappear in a cloud of its black smoke, which, really, was the best entertainment of the night. Handheld sparklers that we waved through the air like the easily amused little fools we were became the icing on the cake. Then Mother would announce that it was cold out, and we’d troop indoors, where our mongrel Shep cowed trembling under a bed because of the occasional illegal firecracker shot off somewhere in the neighborhood.