Fireworks - and the Rockets’ Red Glare


July 7, 2012

I love fireworks.  Not metaphorical fireworks – although we have plenty of those going on at our house.  Actual ones. I love all kinds. The spindly ones that seem to fly across the sky like a shooting star.  The ones that blow up like an enormous flower and drizzle down in all colors. And the ones that make the loudest noise against the dark night sky.

All summer long we hear the boom of fireworks from various locations around our house.  Sometimes, we are lucky enough to see them off in a distance since we live on a hill and every time I just want to get in the car and go closer.  

Maybe it was living in Washington, D.C. renowned for fireworks displays that sealed my love.  When I first moved there in 1980 the hostages were released from Iran and there was a fireworks display to celebrate.  We put on our warmest coats, got on the Metro with thousands of others to gather on the national mall. We ended up being so close to the fireworks the ashes fell on us.  We lay on the wet cold ground and just let them blast away around us.

Or maybe it was my best friend’s wedding 25 years ago which took place on a cruise around Manhattan.  At one point as we sailed on the East River there was a huge fireworks display. We all ran outside to the railing and “oohed” and “ahhed.”  We patted her father on the back for the great surprise. We found out years later he had nothing to do with the show – it was just the famed Grucci family just practicing.

It’s not only grand displays that move me but the smallest fireworks also are delightful.  Like the one at my parents lake house in Pennsylvania. No matter the weather, steamy hot or freezing cold my Dad would make sure there was a reserved spot on the beach so we could sit right in front.  We were so close I’m certain we lost some of our hearing from the booms. After my Dad died even though Dad wasn’t there I still could picture him huddled in a blanket mouth wide open staring at the sky.  

Or when I first met my husband whose family home was across the street from the American Legion Post in Geneva, New York - we could sit in the front yard and watch as the sky lit up right across the street.  His dog Sally would run and hide under a bed and wouldn’t come out until at least July 7th.

When my husband moved to D.C. to work as intern in the White House his plane was landing just as the fireworks started to go off and the pilot slowed down to take in the view.  My husband figured that’s how they welcomed all lowly interns to the White House (in later administrations there were of course fireworks of a different kind to welcome interns).  

These days we mostly watch the fireworks on T.V. switching between channels. But something is missing when you watch it on T.V.  In this day of CGI it doesn’t even look real.

Fireworks are all about celebrating and that has been true for centuries the world over.  We even link it to first love. I know there were definitely fireworks going on when I met my husband in London 30 years ago (or maybe I was just jet lagged).

Last week it was Fourth of July, next week it’ll be Bastille Day, and throughout the summer we’ll have some other excuse to fire them off. But in this digital age of living life through technology, the most ancient technology of pyrotechnics is best experienced live and in person with the awe and wonder that is reserved for our children.  

May the rockets’ red glare for you this summer…somewhere up close.

As first published in the Democrat + Chronicle and on the USA Today Network