It’s a hot one here today. The online weather station says it’s 98 with a “real feel” of 105.
When I was a kid, the 4th of July was always hot, sticky, and fun. We’d play all day as hard as we could (this sometimes involved decorating our bikes and riding in the parade with playing cards in our spokes), have a picnic supper, and then walk to Silver Lake with the Peloquins (family friends) to watch the fireworks. We carried blankets for us kids to sit on, lawn chairs for the grown ups, brown grocery bags full of popcorn, and a jug or two of KoolAid. I remember the mingled smells of sweat, hotdogs, cotton candy, Coppertone, bug spray, Prell shampoo, Winston cigarette smoke (all the grown-up in my life smoked then) and popcorn with butter.
We’d get to the park long before the sun went down to get just the right spot. The playground equipment was full of kids and that made it less fun, so we stayed close to our parents, and sometimes marched around our blankets to the beat of She’s a Grand Old Flag. As we entered our teen years, we sat on the same blankets trying to look a lot cooler than we felt.
I loved the fireworks – the really big ones that splashed across the sky and rained down ash reminded me of the skirts princesses and brides wore. Yes, that’s where my dreams were – I’d meet a prince and marry him and wear a dress with a hoop skirt under it and look every bit as wonderful as those sparkling bits of fire cascading down into the lake. Personal fireworks were illegal, but every now and then someone we knew got a few smoke bombs, snake things, and my favorite: sparklers. Their fierce beauty fascinated me. I thought they burned out way too fast.
From the time I was very little I knew the day was about more than these things – it was about America the Beautiful – more than the title to a great song in the lives of our family and friends. We put our hands on our hearts when we said the Pledge of Allegiance, when the military Honor Guard marched past us, and musically talented or not, we sang the words to the Star-Spangled Banner with conviction. We understood that America’s freedoms had come at a great price; that men and women we’d never known had given all they had for generations they’d never see. Many of them missed their own when they died on battlefields in conditions we can only imagine.
This is my civilian’s salute to those who fought our battles for us, and won. The fireworks across the nation tonight are for you. If I had one, I’d light a sparkler for you.