Bottle rockets whizzed by my face. Roman candles fizzled out at my feet.
I was deep in the trenches of a firework war, surrounded by members of my extended family.
What better way to celebrate our freedoms than doing something stupid?
Someone yelled, “Watch out!” Thinking a bottle rocket was nearing my head, I jumped, only to get hit by a pack of firecrackers going off. Small welts immediately formed on my legs. I looked around and realized it was friendly fire.
My cousins were giggling behind me and remarking on how funny I looked “dancing.”
I hadn’t been allowed to participate in the Watsons’ firework extravaganza before, only watch from a safe distance.
I think I was 13 at the time. It was my first and last year to participate in the once annual tradition.
The Watson side of my family is huge. Dad, Donnie Watson, is one of seven children, and I’m one of 14 grandchildren. Each year for the July 4 holiday this entire family went to a small campground in Townsend, Tenn., which is close to Cades Cove and Pigeon Forge. We spent our days playing in a river behind the campground, eating, swimming in the campground’s pool, judging belly diving competitions, riding through the cove, eating some more and basically running somewhat wild with our cousins.
We also shot off fireworks.
And there’s good reason I wasn’t allowed to participate in the annual event. Watsons and fireworks don’t mix. My injury was minimal compared to what others in my group suffered.
Townsend is small, and across from the campground was a house. A summer house? Cabin? A permanent residence? I don’t know. But those people had great aim with their bottle rockets.
It resulted in a no holds barred firework war. It wasn’t limited to the teens of the group either. Adults happily joined in.
It was every Watson for himself or herself. You didn’t have time to defend anyone else. You had to be quick to avoid being the next target.
Er ... or you were too busy laughing at your uncle whose hair had caught fire to be too concerned with protecting someone else from facing the same fate.
A cousin’s hair singed. We laughed.
Someone got hit in the stomach. We laughed.
Someone dances in firecrackers. They laughed.
Someone had the idea — it was possibly my dad — to use PVC pipe to aim bottle rockets to return fire to the group across the road. It was a two-person job. One person lit the firework and loaded it while the other person held the pipe and aimed. My dad was on duty that particular night. His job was aiming.
I will never forget the moment I saw the bottle rocket leave the pipe and ping off the top of a cop car whizzing by on the road in front of us.
The cop immediately slammed on his brakes. Dad turned and yelled, “Everybody! RUN!!”
Fifty Watsons scattered in all directions. OK, maybe not 50, but probably more like 25 or so. My cousin Jason, sister Michelle and I took refuge in the hallway of a couple of hotel rooms above the campground’s store. Our hearts were racing and we were out of breath as we tried to figure out if we’d be in any kind of trouble.
Only a few brave souls stayed back to actually speak with the cop. My mom, Jennie, was one of them.
We whispered in the hallway: “Is it safe?” “Are we going to get in trouble for running if we get caught?” “Where did Dad go?”
I’m not sure if we found our way back down to the side of the road on our own or if someone came and got us. But we were informed the cop said we had until 11 p.m. to shoot off the rest of our fireworks, and then we had to call it a night.
It was rumored among the family, though I never verified it, that the campground doesn’t allow fireworks anymore. There are even claims Townsend doesn’t allow them either anymore.
But I do know the Watsons were never welcomed back to that campground again.
Murray County native Misty Watson is a photographer and staff writer for The Daily Citizen. Tell her about your firework war memories at email@example.com; facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN; or on Twitter, @mistydwatson