When the cattails were dry, we soaked them in kerosene and dried them again, ready for the big day. Then we made ticktacks.
Each person needed one ticktack. We’d start by using a pocket knife to cut notches in both ends of a wooden spool; we liked the large kind quilters used because they made the loudest noise. We’d whittle a long stick, leaving a knob on one end and shaving the stick to a size that would turn freely inside the hole in the spool. The stick had to be long enough for us to hold in our fist as we spun the spool around. Last we’d drive a small tack in the barrel of the spool and attach a 3-foot-long twine string to the tack. Driving the tack on down held the string in place.
After winding the string around the spool about a dozen times, we cut the string and tied a finger loop in the free end. And then we’d practice making the ticktack noise. By holding both notched edges lightly against a window pane and yanking the string fast, it made a terrific racket - you have to try it to know how awful it was. Mom and Dad soon hid the things till the Fourth.
The cattails were our giant torches, and we lit them and paraded them around after dark. Our folks let us spend about a dollar of our own money for sparklers and Roman candles. They bought us some snakes and sparklers. Snakes were for daylight, and sparklers were our magic for after dark. They bought more stuff on the years that the four boys were visiting; it was a great treat to them.
One cousin said, "I want to go to live with Uncle Dude!" He thought we had homemade ice cream, melons, ticktacks and torch parades every day of the year!
Our neighbors, Edna and Berkeley Pace, were about the same ages as my brother and I, so one year when the Paces were visiting, they drove us to their home, and only the living room light was on. I crawled up on the wide porch railing to reach a small, high window. I put the spool against the window and yanked the twine string. R-r-r-r-r-r-r. I waited and did it again: R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R-R.
As I stretched to try to see in that tall window WHAM! I was struck from behind on the behind. It was Mr. Pace with his cane! The kids were out ticktacking somewhere else.
I wasn’t hurt, of course, but my pride was badly bruised. The joke was on me.