"Hi," was my GREeting to one of our midafternoon customers at the fireworks booth. "Are you looking for any particular display of fireworks?"
"Yes," came the reply of the fortyish-year-old man who stood on the other side of the wooden booth. "I need a firecracker."
This was my third year selling fireworks for the Chaparral High School Band Booster Club, and I took pride in my knowledge of these "treats" for the eyes and ears. Thanks to my son, I know what every one of these does or at least what it was designed to do.
"Would you like to see one of our packaged displays; or the ones here on the counter that can be bought separately?"
"Just one," returned the gentleman as he avoided eye contact.
"Well, let me see. We have some small fountains and some large ones. Perhaps you'd like a smoke ball or a whistler."
"Just one firecracker," persisted the man. "I want it to pop is all."
"How old is the child?" I responded as if he'd told me it was for a child, but I didn't know that. Not for sure.
"It doesn't matter," returned a voice that now became more determined with a man's resolve to find just the right firecracker.
It was clear to me that this child was special. That the Fourth of July was special. But I found it hard to believe that just one firecracker could remedy whatever it was that came between this father and child.
I smiled. "Well, here's just the thing," I said as I held up a party popper. "This makes one pop and sprinkles a little confetti."
"That won't do. It can't make a mess."
"Is this for the evening? Maybe a little fountain that sprinkles would be the best choice."
"No. Just a pop or a whistle."
The man allowed his voice to shake for the first time as he brushed the back of his hand up the side of his whiskered face and across his left eye. "I . . . I want this for my son's grave and I don't want it to make a mess in the mausoleum."
If one heart could touch another, this gentle, sad man had truly touched mine. He was right, the age didn't matter; neither did all the parades, fireworks, hot dogs or celebrations. All of the Fourths of July that had ever been or ever would be didn't matter to him or to his son. All that mattered was this man's need to give someone he'd loved and lost a shared moment of declaration.
'"This is what you want." I gulped as I held up a Whistling Pete. "It whistles quite loudly, but it's what I'd get."
"Thanks," said the unnamed man as he edged a smile at me through watery eyes. "I'll take it."
I could have just given the Whistling Pete to this lonely man, but knew that it was a gift from a father to his son. His need prevailed over my selfish desire.
"They're fifty cents."
Two quarters dropped into the palm of my hand.
The man in a chambray shirt turned his back as he approached his sun-bleached burgundy Oldsmobile. He turned his head toward me and smiled gently as he clutched one Whistling Pete up by his face. He opened the car door and was gone.
If God was anywhere on July 4, 1995, he surely had one hand on the shoulder of his father as he knelt at the crypt of his son. Before the tears and silence that so gently fell in that mausoleum, one Whistling Pete sounded loudly and boldly on that day in July, and I know that it was heard in heaven.