“What are we doing for the Fourth?” My husband asks me every year and every year I do a double-take. “The fourth of what?”
I didn’t grow up celebrating The Fourth of July, and not because we weren’t glad for American independence; on the contrary, it was for this specifically that we emigrated to America and not for its famed national cuisine of hamburgers and hot dogs. I don’t have any recollection of celebrating the holiday until I moved to Staten Island in 1986 and even then after we replanted ourselves into proper American suburbia, we still never went out of our way to watch fireworks anywhere besides the TV. We didn’t BBQ, we didn’t’ wave old glory in front of our brown semi-detached house and we certainly didn’t make the cake with strawberries, blueberries, and cool-whip.
My husband, on the other hand, grew up in the cornfields of Kansas City. (OK, not corn fields, it was hay bales) and his suburban neighborhood followed blueprints for all-American living as doled out directly from Richard Nixon and Better Homes and Gardens. Behind a white picket fence, he wore overalls, ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and fed ducks by the lake in the afternoons. For him, July 4th meant a parade with Uncle Sam, red, white and blue bunting and ABSOLUTELY FIREWORKS, often launched by his dad, in his own backyard. My husband grew up doing a variety of explosives called roman candles, black snakes, tanks, screamers, and bottle rockets which I’m convinced landed several all American freckled kids in the hospital to get their digits reattached.
I grew up in a state where fireworks were illegal but that didn’t stop the self-proclaimed Staten Island guidos from shooting them off in countless strip mall parking lots. The first time I saw fireworks in real life was in Disney World when I was ten. The second time was when we went back to Disney World at 16.
In the last decade, my husband demanded we continue the explosion viewing tradition to celebrate our country’s freedom. We’ve seen them in Boston on the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, sitting on the FDR along the East River in NYC, and on the roof of our apartment building where we saw hundreds of galaxies of fireworks surround our 360-degree view for miles. The pure magic of it, though, is that aside from the fireworks we actively seek out – are the ones that find us. When I’m grumpy and tired and driving home from the Hamptons and it’s two days before the 4th of July and just as mother nature puts the sun to bed, leaving the sky painted shades of pink, orange and purple on the horizon, man figured out a way to mix some gun powder, color and magic and splatters the sky with glitterati. One year we were in Louisville for 4th of July and they told us the fireworks over the river would be canceled due to budget cuts so we stayed in our hotel room. Only right after the sun went down, we heard popping and looked out the window and miraculously, the fireworks found themselves to us.
I’m amazed every time, the metaphorical explosions reminding us of the battles and gunfire it took to liberate us. This year I’ll be on a tiny speck of an island (America’s 50th state) in the middle of the Pacific, ushering in America’s 240th anniversary of liberation, and there too, we’ll watch an eruption of colorful sparks light up the sky and I will stare in awe with no sense of nostalgia, no sense of belonging, I will just be human staring a pretty lights, celebrating being alive. I don’t need a holiday for that, but it’s good to be reminded from what fiery beginnings America was forged.