Things That Go Boom in the Night

The 4th of July is coming tomorrow. I assume this is an obvious statement since today is the third. And for most Americans, pre-COVID-19, it is a day of BBQ’s, local carnivals, and watching fireworks light up the sky—their BOOM! BOOM! BOOM! serenaded by oohs and ahhs.

For me, the statement, the 4th of July is coming, holds the same weight as something yelled out by Paul Revere.  “The 4th is coming! The 4th is coming! The 4th is coming!”

Yes. I am afraid of fireworks, but I used to be worse. 

When I was younger, I remember loving the early morning Independence Day parades down Main Street. I was always envious of the kids that rode with red, white, and blue crepe paper webbed between bike spokes and streamers twirling off handlebars. Those kids had connections. Those kids had bikes.

There were picnics in the park afterward of bologna and mustard sandwiches, homemade potato salads, and watermelon. I used to eat a lot of watermelon–the old-timey kind, where shiny black seeds had not been genetically edited out. My brother Ricky and I would collect sticky black seeds and arrange them in our mouths just in time for impromptu photos—though they rarely stuck.

Later, at home and around dusk, my dad would bring out a small shallow box of grocery store firework assortments wrapped in cellophane. Besides, firecrackers, my brothers would salivate over fireworks like “Astrolite,” “Super Sonic Bang,” “Screamers,” and, of course, “Cherry Bombs.”

Before those were lighted, however, we waited in line for Sparklers, those long metal sticks dosed in combustibles. The perfect combo of magic and 3rd-degree burns!

My dad would use a birthday candle to light a Sparkler, then used this first Sparkler to light the rest. To me, the smell of Sulphur and burning hair reminds me of my dad. 

I always wanted to like Sparklers. I liked them from afar. They were like attainable stars or real-life pixie dust. My older sister would use hers to write her name in ablaze. Jennifer, in cursive, remained in the air long after she had written it. 

My brothers would use theirs as weapons. They would stand in line, get theirs lit, swing them around once or twice, then lick their fingers, extinguish the star, and then run around poking each other with the hot metal sticks. Their real enjoyment had to do with blowing things up.

I hated this part. I hated how small tiny things, once a birthday candle was put to it, would erupt into a buzzing strobing thing. Or when something innocuous such as a candy-shaped object in colorful purple or pink tissue paper, would suddenly release a long piercing wail. On the 4th, I would sit wrapped up in a blanket (shivering from nerves and not from the 100 degree weather) behind my mom, waiting for the grocery store assortment to run out. 

When it got dark, my parents would gather us up. We would dress in our summer PJs and load into the station wagon. We would drive to the Ogden Cemetery, and armed with blankets, choose an area, usually on a hill. 

We would throw down our blankets (respectful not to sit on any tombstones if we could help it) and sit and wait for the show to begin. I don’t remember music piped in like it is today. I don’t recall Neil Diamond’s “Comin’ to America” then, (even though it was popular on the radio). No, that came later. 

At that moment, in the Ogden City Cemetery, we were a community, united in reverence, waiting for the sound of the first canon and the zoom of a rocket and the explosion of sparks high above our heads. 

I wanted to like this part, too. If I remained under the blanket, cupping my ears with both my hands, I didn’t mind fireworks so much. I could enjoy the way light exploded in the inky sky and the twinkling waterfalls after. 

It was the big, big ones, the ones with the low, dense BOOOOOOOOOM, that penetrated my body and sank into my heart that I hated the most. Although, I didn’t love the finale, either, with its nonstop flurries of lightening and cracks and danger—that was the worst part. 

The 4th is coming tomorrow, but I’ve gotten better over the years. I still don’t trust things that can blow apart and I’m the last one to volunteer to light the firework assortment my husband and kids bring home. But I like the day.

Usually, we have a BBQ in our backyard. We go to a local fair at the park and eat cotton candy and donuts. We pay for tickets to ride the newly rigged, rickety roller coaster, or for the flimsy Ferris Wheel that had been put up the night before. 

Then we lay out a blanket, positioned under the stars. We bring packs of playing cards and a frisbee. We wait. We listen as music is piped into the air. We might even sing along to a few John Cougar Melon Camp ditties. 

I still don’t like the explosions in the sky. I always feel as if my body will blow apart just from the sound of the BANG! BANG! BANG! But lying there with my husband and kids, together, relaxed, having fun. I don’t mind the 4th so much, anymore. 

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