Let Freedom Ring

Winthrop, Missouri is one of those border towns that relies on selling what is overtaxed, immoral, illegal or fattening in Kansas. Also called East Atchison by some, it consisted of a couple of gas stations, several liquor stores, an ice cream shop and this time of year, fireworks stands. When I was a kid, I would encourage dad to take me early so I could have plenty to last through the 4th.

Test firings and poor planning left me short several years, and frustrated with having to go back for more, dad finally told me to ride my bike over there and get my favorite type of fireworks…more. Armed with a 20 dollar bill and my backpack, I headed out on my road to freedom and fireworks.

For most Kansans, crossing the state line means crossing a dirt road or walking across State Line Road. For those of us in Atchison, it meant crossing the mile-long Mo-Kan Bridge over the Missouri River, a 1930’s cantilevered two-lane affair that was quite lively with traffic. It’s especially daunting on a purple spyder bike with a banana seat, but fireworks was the reward and I was not to be denied.

I suppose all Kansans’ have their “Over the Rainbow” moment, mine was literally over the bridge. Although Missouri falls well short of Oz, it did hold charms and dangerous delights that gave me plenty of time to contemplate a structure that looked pretty solid from a distance, but really jumped like a bucking bronco with all the traffic. I could have looked to the north and seen Independence Creek, named by Lewis and Clark on July 4th, 1804 as the “Corps of Discovery” began their journey west. They celebrated by firing their rifles and drinking and extra ration of whiskey. Fortunately, Kansas wasn’t a state yet or they would have violated the law, ergo the bridge.

Now I plan my fireworks around a place called PyroCity in Lone Jack, Missouri, and instead of firecrackers I work with 500-gram cakes, a bunch of them. I have the patience to wait for dark on the 4th to let it all go, so I hope the rest of us can wait, and follow all the rules and restrictions to celebrate our freedom. Or head to Missouri, were the laws are mere suggestions. Happy Birthday America!