The 4th of July (aka Independence Day) is, of course, a big holiday in the United States. It has patriotic nostalgia for lots of Americans, but for me, it has some family nostalgia as well.
It was one of those rare holidays that my dad really enjoyed. And not surprisingly, my favorite 4th of July memory is one of them.
My dad used to love to go all out with fireworks. And one year, we went batshit crazy with our annual purchase. In my memory this happened in Tennessee, at my grandmother’s house, but it was definitely outside in a field. We had a gigantic box full of big fireworks, and then a smaller box of little things.
Now, when I say big fireworks, I’m not playin’ around. I’m talking about those mortar cannons that shoot big sizzling fireballs into the air, which explode into a giant deafening boom of light several seconds later in the sky. These were the expensive big flashy displays.
Our fireworks extravaganza began with a few simple things from the small box… Sparklers, Roman candles, etc. Little stuff, just to get the party started. And what happened next probably strains credibility, but I swear this is how I remember it.
One spark… One spark managed to land in the big box. And it hit a fuse.
The entire box started launching. Each fuse that lit would start sparkling, producing more sparks that lit more fuses, which became a chain reaction in that giant box of explosives. One by one, they started lighting, and then lighting others.
And most of the munitions weren’t facing upright, because they were in a box on the ground. Which means they launched horizontally, zooming across the field, exploding amongst corn stalks (I think?) and sending people diving out of the way in all directions.
In my memory, I see whirling, screaming fireworks launching through the field, chasing after people. I see laughing, screaming family members being two parts delighted, one part terrified. I see the careful pause once it seemed the last of them had light. I can still smell the acrid smell of gunpower (or at least, some equivalent) thick in the air. I see heads cautiously lifting up throughout the field, just silhouettes in the smoky dust.
And I remember us carefully walking over to the charred, crispy remains of the box, where everything in it had burned itself out.
And a few feet away? The smaller box, full of kids stuff. Sparklers aplenty, unscathed. Somehow they just never seemed as exciting, even as a kid, after that night.
I’m sure I have some of the details wrong. But for me, my fondest memory of 4th of July is the shock and awe of everyone present, when dozens of wide eyes and gaping mouths looked to my father in the aftermath, wondering how he’d react. He’d intended to be Big Man on Campus with his expensive box of fancy big fireworks, and though it hadn’t gone as planned, it sure made an impression.
And he just started laughing, laughing until he had to lean over to catch his breath. I smile at the memory of him being so full of mischief and joy that day, because it makes me happy to remember him that way.
Happy Independence Day, all.