I am not especially patriotic, but I love a good fireworks display. I’m not sure how I came to this attraction to all things bright and sparkly. It isn’t nostalgia. The only fireworks I remember in my childhood involved a car trip with my parents down a deserted country road. We stopped outside the city limits and my dad unloaded a paper sack of bottle rockets that we carried past a herd of curious cattle to the edge of a pond on some stranger’s land. It wasn’t exactly the type of memory I’m anxious to recreate.
The other day was July 4th, the day we Americans celebrate our independence by setting off grass fires and frightening the neighborhood dogs. My fiancé Andrew and I set aside this date every year for our annual disagreement about fireworks. He prefers to ignore them and hide inside in the air conditioning (I think he must have been a Labrador retriever in a past life) while I insist that the holiday won’t be complete unless I watch something explode.
“I could always stick a sparkler up my butt and run around,” Andrew said.
“Not spectacular enough,” I said, after considering his offer.
This year we compromised with an outing on July 3rd to the ballpark near our home to watch the Frisco RoughRiders play baseball. The schedule stated there would be fireworks following the game. We arrived at the stadium after the first inning and settled into our seats behind first base. I counted off the innings and willed the sun to set while we ducked at the occasional foul ball flying overhead. The ice in my soda melted and my thighs stuck to the plastic seat. The air filled with what was either the aroma of grilled hot dogs or my fellow spectators roasting in the summer heat. Around the 7th inning we rallied enough to stand and sing along with “God Bless America.”
As soon as the game ended I noticed a stream of people heading down from the stands.
“Should we follow them?” I asked.
The loudspeaker cut in, announcing that the fireworks would soon start. “They’ll be visible behind the first base section of the stands, fans will have a good view from the field,” the announcer said.
“That’s right over us,” Andrew pointed out. “I don’t think we’ll be able to see from here.” We leaned back in our seats, trying to judge the line of sight.
“We should move,” I agreed.
We hopped over rows of plastic folding seats and fought like salmon headed upstream against the crowd tromping down the aisles. The announcer warned “The fireworks will start in one minute” just as we reached the top of the stadium. I hummed the theme from Mission Impossible as we dodged a stadium attendant.
“Go! Go!” I urged Andrew as we weaved past shuttered food stands and splashed through puddles alongside the Lazy River pool. The first boom sounded as we fled through a gate and into the street beside the ballpark. I stood on the curb and leaned out into traffic so I could watch the pyrotechnics bursting in flashes of brilliant red, white, and blue. Their splendor was slightly blocked by the leaves on the tree I stood under. The display ended while I was still deciding on the best place to stand. It was like someone offered me a cookie and then broke it in half and gave me the smaller bit.
The following evening, the proper Independence Day, we celebrated with an after dark bike ride through our neighborhood. We ride at night because I will only put on bicycle shorts when there is no danger of anyone seeing me. The subdivision across from our home features roads with challenging hills. I usually complain and grumble as I downshift and pedal along. This night, as I struggled up the fourth or fifth incline, I heard the distinctive boom that meant somewhere people were celebrating.
“Can you see any fireworks at the top?” I called as Andrew cycled past me.
When we got to the peak we could hear a barrage of blasts from every direction. But we couldn’t see any fireworks. It was as though we had arrived at a free fire zone in the midst of an invisible military occupation.
We biked on through the subdivision. I struggled along hopefully at every rise in elevation while Andrew shot past me. At last we arrived at the outside edge of the subdivision, and Andrew coasted up to the stop sign at the intersection with the main road. An older man and his barefoot son stood in their front yard, watching the horizon.
“Look there.” Andrew pointed toward the east. A sound like far off thunder rolled toward us and I saw a burst of red and gold light up the sky miles away.
“I think that’s Arlington, it’s been going on almost an hour,” our neighbor told us.
We had a good view, although from our remote vantage point the fireworks resembled glittery dandelions gone to seed. As the booms faded Andrew turned to me. “If we listen carefully we might hear the people cheering.”
“Maybe,” I replied. I envied that distant crowd. I imagined the fireworks bursting in the air and showering their magic light on those below. I hoped they clapped. I hoped they cheered. I hoped they sang.
God bless America, land that I love
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with a light from above
From the mountains to the prairies
To the oceans white with foam
God bless America, my home sweet home
God bless America, my home sweet home