photo by Sheri Dixon

Friday, July 5, 2013

A Very Short and Specific History of Fireworks

9:30pm on the nosie the first muffled "boom" from the football stadium caused us to pause in our conversation and glance up.

Over the treetops, to the left of the very tall light pole and the right of the shorter light pole and under the the electrical wires the sky glittered and sparkled; the first of 30 minutes-worth of fireworks.

The little file in my brain labled "Fireworks Displays" shook itself off and gently opened on the untidy desk of my mind and I thumbed through it- over half a century of fireworks.

Every year from tiny tot-hood through my teens 4th of July fireworks meant a trek down to either North Beach or Zoo Beach in Racine Wisconsin- the fireworks were shot off from the long cement piers and out over Lake Michigan. Flashlights and fireflies on the beach and bluffs were overpowered by the fireworks brilliantly and sinuously reflected in the incoming waves lapping at the shore while out beyond the harbor entrance the twinkling lights of the boats watching from 'the other side' mimicked those onshore.

After dark in Southern Wisconsin meant one of two things- either ridiculously cold for July, which people muttered under their breath while donning another layer, another flannel shirt or sweatshirt; or hot, muggy and swarming with mosquitoes- causing everyone to wistfully remember previous years when it had been "delightfully crisp- sweatshirt weather, and not a bug in sight".

One year (I was about 12 or so) we took our family vacation to Washington DC, which my mother planned and organized so we had a high-up floor in a hotel that faced the fireworks display over the Washington Monument. The only hereditary thing I proudly claim from my mom is her "awesome vacation planning gene".

As half of a young couple with small kids, we were members of our local Jaycees/Jaycettes and one of the other couples lived directly across the field of their small town fireworks staging area. It was great- we had a superb view of the fireworks, access to a house (and bathroom), food, drinks, and the musical accompaniment of Lance's "only on the 4th of July mix" tape.

Then I moved to Texas.

The kids were older and amazed (in a good way) that the laws regarding dangerous explosives in the hands of children were fairly non-existent here. In the years between, "This is GREAT!" and "Ummm...ya- mom? We'd rather stay here and be with our friends and our part-time jobs" they purchased horrifying arrays at Pop's Firework Stand and set them off in the meadow between our house and the neighbors' house. The dogs were traumatized for days.

Then along came Alec.

The first year he was interested in fireworks we sat outside and in back of the big display Tyler puts on- no crowds and not quite so noisy.

We went over to Edom a few years- small town display, local bands playing music, friends with other small kids to "oooh" and "ahhh" with.

Then Alec was big enough to appreciate the laxness of the fireworks laws in Texas and there were a few years of "You and your son go blow shit up- I'm not looking".

One year (not on the 4th of July, on a New Year's Eve- also a big 'blow shit up' holiday in Texas) the boys convinced me to go outside to watch them blow shit up.

I stood away back from the meadow, under the huge oak tree that comprised the entire front yard of that house.

The first artillery shell hissed out of the stand, shot into the air and exploded into a lovely display as I heard "rustle rustle rustle thump" behind me.

What the?

My guineahens! My guineahens roosting in the tree! Somehow, had the boys HIT one of the guineahens???

Appalled, I turned around and looked at the ground behind me. There was a guineahen, wandering around clearly disoriented and absolutely pissed off but also clearly not physically injured. She'd been sound asleep and the loud noise had startled her...right off of the branch.

The next year (three years ago) we were on a trip north- way north to Montana and back. I planned it so we hit Mt. Rushmore on theh 4th of July. What could be more incredible than fireworks going off behind those big heads?

We got to the hotel in Rapid City mid-afternoon in a hellacious thunderstorm that showed no sign of letting up. I called the park and was told that they hadn't cancelled the fireworks...yet, but that the park was already full and if we were to come up there to plan on at least a mile + hike the rain. It irked every bone in my body but I resigned myself to our family watching the Mt. Rushmore fireworks on the hotel room TV.

It was so cloudy and misty and foggy that the entire show was big heads backlit by different colors- not a sparkle in sight. Afterwards they cruelly re-ran the previous year's show which was outstandingly breathtaking.

By then it was almost midnight and the sky had cleared and we wandered outside the hotel...the hotel perched away high up on the side of a mountain overlooking Rapid City and there it was- just one at first like a firefly. *poof*

Then another *poof* and another and we sat down on a bench overlooking the city to watch the citizens of Rapid City blow shit up in their own backyards from left to right and as far as we could see and it was outstandingly breathtaking, even without the Big Heads in the foreground.

Two years ago I decided that Alec needed to see both a kickass 4th of July parade and the fireworks over Lake Michigan. We watched both with my parents and my brother, giving Alec time with family he never gets to see and it was good.

Last year we had friends over and blew shit up in our meadow with a bonfire going and it was good.

So you would think that this year's view was actually a pretty crappy one compared to over Lake Michigan or above the reflecting pool in DC or from the bluffs above Rapid City or the unobstructed comfort of our own place but you'd be wrong.

Because I wasn't watching the fireworks.

I was watching my son- tall as most adults (taller than some, including his mother) and his friends- his 'herd', who were watching the fireworks and farting around and laughing and doing what teens do with and to each other, these social almost-adult humans.

They're a funny, brilliant, independent and quirky lot and if these are the minds who will be running our country, we'll be A-OK.

Well, maybe not today- today Alec is covered with fire ant bites from sitting in them last night.

All in good time.

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