Being There: Bursting in Air 

The smell of cordite, the ring of freedom.

In the lighting-things-up department, Jordan has an advantage over other boys his age. His mother, Melissa McCain, and sister, Jessica Nichols, are professionals. The three of them help run Factory Fireworks Direct, which, they boast, is probably the largest enclosed fireworks store in the state.

From about Memorial Day to Labor Day, seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m., they sell Green Dragons, Show Stoppers, Celebrate Freedoms and other noise-producing, smoke-billowing chemicals. The store is across from Paramount's Kings Dominion, between a Burger King and the All American Travel Plaza.

"She won't even close down the store to go shopping," Nichols says of her mom, whose blonde hair falls over a gray sweatshirt as she mans the cash register.

On a Thursday afternoon, their pregnant Jack Russell, Patsy — named after Patsy Cline — naps behind the blue counter. Plastic American flags and stars hang from the walls. Around the edges of the store, bins of smaller fireworks and bags of various sizes are stacked on plywood shelves from floor to ceiling. On neat displays in the middle of the store are bright colored packages of cones and cylinders, all promising to pack a wallop. The most popular joke from customers, Nichols says: "Can I smoke in here?" Attached to the ceiling is a safety-orange-colored strobe light, which is always on. At night it can be seen by passengers in cars leaving Kings Dominion.

McCain rings up a $42 purchase from Scott Weisberger of Richmond and his 11-year-old son, Harrison. The stash — which includes a Never Ending Fountain — is destined for a New Jersey beach house for a Fourth of July celebration, Harrison says.

"I think this is probably the best store around," Weisberger says. Although, his son notes, "Tennessee's the best. 'Cause everything's legal."

Talk about legal, says Nichols, a 16-year-old wearing a baby-blue '70s-style peasant blouse with a silver cross necklace and blue-jean shorts. Nichols says she arrived last night from West Virginia, where she worked in a fireworks store that sold mortars.

"Mortars?" Weisberger asks incredulously.

"We can only sell them to people who live outside West Virginia," Nichols explains, laughing. To make sure of that, she adds, she was required to look at licenses.

Fire marshals come to the store every now and then, McCain says. "They look in the back room." But the rules seem to be simple: Fireworks can't go higher than 20 feet, must not explode on the ground and must be set off on your own property.

You can get everything here from two-for-$1 basic exploding pellets to the $99.99 Pyromaniac package, a combination of fireworks that can keep you busy, McCain says, for one-and-a-half to two hours. But McCain and her family will probably just watch Kings Dominion's fireworks from across the street. "We work too much," McCain says.

Jordan, wearing a blue tank top, seems to be ready for a break. His blonde hair is spiked in front, like a mini-'NSync standby. His sister got it that way with passion-fruit hair spray. Jordan finishes playing with his Lego Bob the Builder set, and focuses on the smoke balls. He looks up at his mom. "Can't we go outside," he pleads, "and blow these things up?" S


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