Tuesday, July 4, 2023
Ralph asked me if I wanted to go see the fireworks this year. And I believe my exact answer was Yes. Maybe. You know, very definitive. Because… I do? Theoretically. I do because I like fireworks. I don’t because it involves effort. And leaving the house. And being in a crowd of people and spending an hour driving one mile.
We did not, in fact, go see the fireworks this year. If it had been a weekend, and not 97 degrees with 85% humidity and more storms in the forecast, if we had time to kill and the inclination to do it, I would have packed up some snacks, got our folding chairs and walked the mile.
This is not what I would call a Motivated Year.
But that’s ok, because I was quite content to not go see fireworks and to think, instead, about the fireworks I’ve seen and enjoyed in years past.
We’ve been to the fireworks show here before.
The first year we were here when I was half in traction with my back, we drove down to the farm where they have the show every year, parked in a ditch at the side of the road, and stood by the fence to watch. I wouldn’t have been able sit anyway, let alone get up and down off the ground, so that worked out. Mostly I remember getting about a thousand mosquito bites, but it was fun.
Another year we went for real. It was on a weekend which was nice, so we went to the park during the day and spent a while walking around and enjoying the fresh air and butterflies until the evening when we plunked down on our folding chairs with a cooler full of grapes and cheese and crackers and enjoyed the show.
I saw a quite spectacular sunset that year. The fireworks were set to go off down by the river on the west side of the park, which slopes ever so slightly toward the horizon across a wide, grassy field. As we sat on the grass munching on grapes and cheddar just before dusk, the sun sank lower over the river until it was an orange bubble just sitting on the hill.
It was doing its best impression of a sun-colored grape.
Perhaps it simply wanted to puff itself up a bit before the fireworks show, just to prove that it could outshine and outperform even the most extravagant starbursts.
The fireworks show was pretty good, but I have to admit it’s hard to follow a sunset like that.
Something must have gone awry toward the end because the show just… stopped. Everyone started getting up to leave but we sat there perplexedly wondering if that was it because there was no finale. Then five minutes later the finale kicked in, which was worth waiting for except for the fact that about a thousand people and cars were going by in front of us since everyone was in a rush to get out.
It took us one full hour get about a hundred yards to the exit of the park before we could even drive the mile back home. I quite literally could have walked it three times.
Last year it was about nine hundred degrees so we did not want to go to the park during the day and we were not motivated to go at night so we stood on our balcony and watched the few aerial fireworks that we could see above the treetops. That was good enough for me.
This year, a little reminiscing is quite sufficient.
I remember as a kid there was always someone in a panic about the noise. One year my cousin – a grown adult – went and closed herself in the closet to escape it. With five brothers, one of whom was inevitably a baby at any given point, there was always a lot of The Baby Is Sleeping Please Dear God Don’t Wake The Baby.
Dogs always freaked out. Cats hid under beds.
So much drama for a light show.
The noise never bothered me. It’s not the same as beeping trucks, say, or serenading church bells. It’s kind of a soothing boom, like a thunderstorm. I actually like hearing them in the distance even when I can’t see them.
My father did fireworks at our house every year. We were allowed to hold sparklers but otherwise we were gathered up by panicked mothers and grandmothers who were sure someone would get an eye shot out or a hand blown off. My father went Way Out into the yard to do them.
In one of those early years I remember the police coming by and saying um, actually, this is illegal? But my father is very good with things like that and somehow managed to spend the next several decades shooting off fireworks in the back yard without trouble. Some of the cops came by just to watch the shows.
These days my brother Eric puts on the show and he is quite serious about it. I’d tell you how he gets his fireworks but I don’t want to reveal all the family secrets at once.
It’s a whole process, involving driving into a state where it is legal to buy them, but not directly, because the cops know that’s exactly what people do, so he goes in this roundabout circuitous way like ladedah, I’m just having myself a day trip.
And he comes home with enough gunpowder to blow up a small country.
He builds entire sets and chains fireworks together so they go off in sequence, grand finale included. I have not seen one of his shows in person but I’ve seen videos and it’s pretty impressive.
Then he meticulously cleans up every last stray piece of cardboard from every square inch of lawn and treetop like nothing ever happened. The neighbors mostly love it and don’t complain but on the occasion where you get That Person, there is never any evidence to support their claim.
I’m convinced at this point that the local police give him a pass because it’s such a neighborhood event. It doesn’t stop my mother from panicking every year that he’ll lose a limb, but everyone else seems to love it.
I’ve always loved fireworks. Pretty sparky things? Yes, please.
A Fourth of July musing, however, would not be complete without a bit of history. For instance, did you know that the 4th has been celebrated with fireworks since 1777? Yup. Almost all the way back to the founding of the United States.
There was a 13-gun salute in honor of the 13 colonies, dining, music, fireworks, and a grand finale of 13 rockets.
But we didn’t invent fireworks by a long shot. Historians generally agree that fireworks were invented in 200 B.C. China. They started by roasting bamboo, which explodes because it is filled with air pockets. Then they combined a bunch of kitchen stuff and inadvertently ended up with something like gunpowder, which they stuffed into the bamboo to make a pretty good bang. These first fireworks were used to ward off evil spirits, then got turned into weapons because that’s what humans do, and eventually evolved into the fireworks we use to celebrate today.
And what do we celebrate? Not the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That didn’t happen until August 2nd. But the document was officially adopted on July 4th, which is the anniversary we celebrate each year.
And if you’re my family, you. take this job very, very seriously.
Photo: a starburst at the show we saw a few years ago. Almost as impressive as the sunset.