Today’s the big day, with cookouts and parades in some places, those little home-made parades around neighborhoods and small towns, with dogs dressed up and riding in wagons, little kids in red, white and blue, and grandmas on the sidelines in lawn chairs.
It is the day of waking with John Philip Sousa marching around your brain, and maybe the 1812 Overture, a day of rising early to check the weather, because of all our holidays, this is the one we spend outside, with swimming, and hotdogs and watermelon.
It is a day of firecrackers.
A day of those booming things that have been going off for over two weeks now. It starts early each year, those trial runs. It is fairly infrequent in the run-up to the Fourth and easy to overlook or ignore the late night boom and pop..pop..pop that could only be fireworks. It is annoying, but tolerable in small doses. It will reach full crescendo this evening, when all over town we will hear the shriek and whistle of explosives—such fun!—sounds that will send dogs under beds, cowering and shaking and will irk the rest of us if it continues past 10:00 p.m.
Which it will.
We will be irked, that is, unless we have gotten our own hands on some fireworks, have gathered in our back yards or out by the street where children are standing around with their lips stuck out because their fathers are setting up tubes jam-packed with gunpowder and lighting fuses, because, you know, it’s too dangerous for kids. They will hog the bottle rockets. And these grown men, why, there is nothing of the big kid in them, just the epitome of mature and responsible oversight.
When I was a child, firecrackers, wrapped in the thinnest of paper with Chinese characters written all over it, were hard to come by. Sometimes, with great pleading and coercion, a dad might stop at a fireworks stand on some family trip through Tennessee. Just across the bridge in Indiana firecrackers could be had, but only for a few weeks a year.
A rickety wooden stand with a large hand painted sign would appear in the empty lot right off the bridge, and it looked a little fly-by-night and iffy. Word of its appearance would spread like a rash among adolescent boys and clandestine trips were planned.
It was a simpler time, when just driving across the bridge constituted leaving town and was forbidden for most new drivers. It was forbidden in my house. It was if, upon receiving our permits, my parents presented us with a map on a piece of parchment with the town and a crudely drawn river, and just beyond, in the void, the words, “Here be dragons.”
Boys, though, the cool ones, always seemed to have a ready supply of firecrackers. Girls were relegated to playing with “snakes”—those little black disks we lit on sidewalks to watch grow and writhe into long trails of black ash.
We managed to procure sparklers most years, but they weren’t all that much fun. The thrill is in the lighting of it, and then the thrill is gone. You wave it around a bit and then stand about self-consciously until it goes out, at which point you burn yourself on the wire and your mother harps on and on about not dropping the spent sparkler in the grass where your dad might run over it with the mower and put somebody’s eye out.
Sucks all the fun right out of the endeavor, that image.
I suppose this year will be no different from others. Leftover fireworks will go off all weekend. Dogs, bless them, will shake and convulse, no matter how tightly we cinch their thunder shirts. We will drift off to sleep at ten, or eleven, or twelve, and be jolted from sweet slumber with hollow booms and the popcorn bursts of firecrackers lit all in one go.
And I will be cranky. Or maybe not cranky.. I used to spend the Fourth with my sister and her tribe and all their neighbors, with a communal cookout, and lawn chairs and grandmas, and the dads hogging all the best gear. The kids are grown now, new neighbors live in the homes of those who have moved on, or left us. Things change.
Maybe the fireworks of last week, today, this weekend, remind me, and what I really feel is a little sad.