A few weeks ago, at a christening in Rockaway for my cousin’s new baby, my Uncle Umberto grabbed me while I was filling my plate with pasta, I mean, salad from the buffet.
“Are you coming to my house for the Fourth of July?,” he asked with his broken English. He came to this country and married my Aunt Maria in 1975 and had lived in Ozone Park until recently when they migrated from Queens to Long Island.
“Of course,” I answered, knowing the legend of their Independence Day parties back in Ozone Park. Although I already knew the answer, I asked the question anyway,
“Are you going to have fireworks?”
“Not sure,” he said with a sly smile, “We’ll have to see what happens.”
To be honest, the answer was disappointing. Back in Queens, my relatives put on a show that rivaled the Gruccis. Not quite sure how they got hold of the pyrotechnics (some questions are better off not being asked), but they never disappoint. I haven’t been to one of their displays in a few years and now that I don’t have to travel to Queens, I was looking forward to the show.
These are not garden-variety fireworks like bottle rockets, ground spinners, or even the rockets that shower with a small explosion in the sky. You can’t use a beer bottle or a coffee can to launch them. These are professional aerial display shells that are loaded into mortars. If you want to get technical, they’re 1.3G (Class B) Explosives.
He usually has “peonies,” the ones that explode into a ball, and “chrysanthemums” that explode like a flower. Sometimes, he has the ones that shower like willows or horsetails. No matter how you slice it, they take off like rockets, explode into a beautiful display and make incredibly loud noises. Some of them come bunched in their own launch container, where you just light the fuse, and they fire consecutively for a few minutes.
When the big day came, I headed straight to the garage to grab a beer from the cooler. Behind the cooler under a table, I could see a few rows of mortars, each one with a fuse sticking out. I moved the tablecloth to get a better look and counted about 24 of them, lined up like soldiers and ready to go. A grin crossed my face.
I went into the backyard and informed my uncle I had spied his secret stash under the table. He smiled and led me back into the garage, uncovering a pallet draped in a white sheet, stacked with boxes of professional-grade fireworks. Across the garage on another shelf was a plethora of boxes filled with more pedestrian items, like sparklers, bottle rockets and roman candles. As impressive as the collection was, it made me rethink having a lit cigar in the garage.
As the afternoon wore down and twilight took over, we were counting the minutes until showtime. Everywhere you looked, the Long Island night sky was beginning to light up with fireworks. While my uncle and cousins were getting organized, some neighbors began their own display just a few houses down. They had plenty of fireworks and, during any other celebration, it would have been a fantastic show.
Then my family stepped up to the plate to unleash the power and fury of Queens. It was no contest. Rockets were soaring so high, it hurt your neck to watch them light up the sky. And when they exploded, car alarms were going off and children were crying. Other than what goes on in the East River every year thanks to Macy’s, I don’t think we’ve seen a show of this magnitude on a residential street.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the pyrotechnic “King of Queens” has moved into our neighborhood. Long live the king.
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.