Whenever I think of Independence Day, a couple of things come to mind. The first, is what I learned in History class; that is, when I was paying attention. July the fourth, 1776 was the day the colonies “shook off the galling chains of tyranny” and said no to taxation without representation. They declared themselves to be free and independent states, then proceeded to make “nicey-nice” with the French. We went to war wearing classy blue uniforms, and fought valiantly until the British Parliament grew tired of it all and gave us the independence we wanted.
The second thing that comes to mind is all the ways we celebrate our independence. July the fourth is known for its celebratory picnics, parades, concerts, family fun and best of all, fireworks. Ah, fireworks; that pyrotechnic invention of the Chinese that now seems as American as the hot dogs and hamburgers we throw on our grill each Independence holiday.
My earliest memories of watching Fourth of July fireworks were when Dad would pile the family into the car and take us to the drive-in theater where we would watch the incendiary spectacle before the movie started. Mom would bring a gallon of iced tea and a container of popcorn because there was no way they were buying us anything from the concession stand. I remember my brother and sister being able to sit on the hood of the car with a blanket while I was confined to my overprotective mother’s lap, or on the ground beside her door. Those were simple fireworks shows back then, not the musically choreographed events we see today. Back then the only sounds heard with the explosions were the “oohs” and ahhs” of the crowd, and the screams of frightened children.
I have tried to make sure that our family has had the opportunity to enjoy a fireworks display each Fourth of July, no matter what we had going on. Oftentimes that meant going to a park, or some large event to watch them, but lately we have enjoyed sitting on our back porch and watching our neighbors set off their array of rockets, festival balls, and flares. We even have been known to drive around various places and seek out fireworks displays in other neighborhoods. Yes, we are “those people” who you see creeping through your neighborhood in order to catch a glimpse of the explosives you and your neighbor spent a small fortune on because we were too cheap to buy our own.
When I have purchased fireworks for our family they were lesser in grandeur than the big stuff most people buy these days. Call me stingy, but I just can’t bring myself to spend hundreds of dollars on items that will be nothing more than a memory and flame charred yard litter by sunrise the next day. We do buy our share of sparklers, bottle rockets and such. The kids have always enjoyed them. That is, until the neighbors begin setting off the big boys a few houses down. After that, all bets are off, and my wife and I are left holding our little plastic Walmart bag of flammable goodies as my kids are running to the sidewalk with gleeful shouts.
To me, the community celebrations have been the best fireworks displays. Most often it was worth the time it took to load the car, head to the park and stake out our territory with lawn chairs or blankets in order to get the best view possible. Unfortunately, my children haven’t had the pleasure of sitting on the hood of the car as my brother and sister did, since car hoods are more sloped and made of a lot thinner metal these days. Their Mom doesn’t pack sweet tea, but we may have some bottles of water on hand.
I have to admit that of all the fireworks displays I have seen, I can’t recall particulars about any of them. What I do remember are the moments trying to calm the little ones who weren’t used to the noise. I reminisce about things like Sousa Marches, Star Spangled Banners, hot humid nights and spilled ice cream. Mostly I think about how often I have taken my eyes off the spectacle going on in the sky above me just to watch the faces of my children as they watch in wonder and begin creating their own memories.