My daughter went in to San Francisco to watch Fourth of July fireworks with her boyfriend, but Sam and I went to a movie and had a quiet dinner at home. Somehow Bay Area fireworks and I have never “clicked.”

Maybe it’s that half the time, you can’t see them through the fog. Maybe it’s that you’re typically watching them standing up on some concrete sidewalk, packed in a crowd, huddling in the 50-degree cold in your leather jacket and wishing you had worn a hat.

Photo by Stephen Gunby (Creative Commons)

When I was a kid, we spent summers in the small Connecticut town of Wilton — a commuter suburb of New York, really, but we called it “the country” because we stayed in houses with grassy yards and flower gardens rather than our usual 11th floor apartment. My grandparents owned a small weekend cottage there. We rented houses near them, and went to the community pond for day camp and swimming.

On the Fourth of July, we’d go to the local fireworks display on the football field at the town high school. People parked their cars on the field. I remember sitting in the back seat of a convertible (ours? my grandparents’?) and staring up at the sky and waiting for FOREVER until it was dark enough for them to start. I was a little scared of the noise, but I got over it. I remember saying “ooh” and “aah” out loud with each one, and waiting for the grand finale when they would shoot off maybe a half dozen different rockets at the same time.

For about twenty years, I didn’t pay attention to fireworks. But when I did again, boy, had the technology advanced. Now even the most average run-of-the-mill rocket was more spectacular than the grand finale of my childhood. There were now fireworks in multiple colors, fireworks that cascaded down like fountains, fireworks that took on the shape of smiley faces or American flags.

But I still miss those warm East Coast summer nights and the expansive grassy field. (Even if we were parked on it in a monster 1960s car!)

The closest I’ve come have been the times I’ve watched fireworks in Davis. There, the show takes place in a huge, grassy town park. People bring blankets and picnics and sprawl on the grass as the stifling Central Valley heat gives way to cool evening breezes.

For me, it’s not just the fancy pyrotechnics. It’s the feeling of lying back on the grass like a king or queen to watch the show unfold directly above me — warm, stretched out, relaxed.

As a kid, it was also the thrill of staying up late, PAST BEDTIME. And then being shuttled sleepily, safely home.

How about you? Any evocative childhood memories of summer fireworks or Fourth of July celebrations?


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3 Responses to “Fireworks”

  1. stevegoesgreen Says:

    I lived in Connecticut in the mid 1960’s and we used to walk (!) about 20 minutes down to the beach and stand on the boardwalk while the fireworks show went off on the beach in front of us and also above us in the warm Summer night. It was free, easy to get to, and to this kid, exhilarating.

  2. Melissa Says:

    Childhood memory: 4th of July at Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania. Beautiful garden showplace founded by the DuPonts who owned much of that area as well as around my home in Delaware. There were fireworks as well as fountains that were lit and “choreographed” to classical music. Quite spectacular. That was 50 years ago, but I googled Longwood and they are still doing the fireworks and fountains shows. Favorite adult memory, only in retrospect: Fought the traffic and crowds to go out on a boat on the San Francisco Bay for the Bicentennial extravaganza. It was a typical S.F. summer evening; we were completely fogged in. The show was flashes of different colored fog accompanied by noise, crowds, and a scary traffic jam of boats on the Bay.

  3. lindseycrittenden Says:

    My memories of East Coast fireworks are mostly from tar beach (Manhattan rooftops), though I enjoyed some lovely Fourths in Amagansett. I know what you mean, Ilana, about lying on the grass. For me, that image will always conjure a field in Sonoma, where we’d bring a blanket and a picnic and lie out waiting for dark and the explosions of light directly overhead. It isn’t the same watching them at a distance, in the fog, it’s true.

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