Fireworks and fireflies
July 4, 2013
As I arrived, the lake at Killdeer County Park was painted pink and purple in the setting sun. Fourth of July weekend, and two Mennonite families, with the women wearing their traditional headgear, were fishing while two boys ran along the edge of the lake. I hurried past on my bike, or at least as close as one can get to hurrying when dragging a bike trailer with 100 plus pounds of fur and equipment behind. I had spotted the pine tree from my approach on the highway, saw it was an empty spot, and wanted to get settled before nightfall with enough time to watch the fading colors.
Sunset. I had missed it so desperately in the concrete jungle. The few times I was silly enough to mention it, people scoffed, noting that I just didn’t pay high enough rent. Sunset, it seems, was an exclusive right of those privileged enough to pay the price for it, as is most everything else except the public art in Chicago.
The fireworks from nearby DeWitt illuminated the horizon once the colors faded.
Fourth of July. As a child I had always imagined the fireworks for me since my birthday usually fell during the same weekend America celebrated its independence. (Perhaps in part that explains why I am so frightfully, stubbornly liberated.)
Often I was quite ill on my birthday, contracting all the childhood illnesses—mumps, measles, rubella, tonsillitis—a few days before the celebration would begin. I would spend my day in bed, nursed by my sister, often too weak to leave a darkened room. Even though the illnesses would often last throughout Independence Day celebrations, I could still see the glow of the city’s fireworks, smell the sulfurous smoke, and hear the faint booming. My day, for what it was worth.
When my children were young, my home was always the one where friends and family gathered, bringing baked goodies and bags of pyrotechnics, and even a welding torch or two for those “duds” with soggy or missing fuses. All were welcome, and my broad driveway and expansive yard easily accommodated thirty to forty guests. Those who came loved it; those who didn’t held a grudge against us the remainder of the year.
Initially, only the “adults” were allowed to light the display while children sat contentedly on a small slope in the yard spitting watermelon seeds between “ooooo’s” and “awwwww’s,” rushing after the four hour long show to gather the charred army battalions, space ships and pagodas among the less interesting wands or cones. The only rule was the driveway had to be clear by the time the crowd dispersed, and the children even somehow made a game of cleaning up the debris.
As they grew older, someone introduced “Jack-be-nimble,” yet another game kids shouldn’t try at home. It was all about sharing laughter, magic, and even a few burns here and there.
As I drove through Iowa this Fourth of July, famished from my long ride, every BBQ I encountered brought stinging tears to my eyes, reminding me of how the BBQ smoke once stung my nostrils as I prepared any vegetarian’s worst nightmare: brats, hamburgers, chicken, shrimp, hot dogs: whatever my guests had brought as burnt offering.
While I watched the fading colors, followed by fireflies vying for the distant firework’s glory, I believe it must have been the faint smell of BBQ that caused my eyes to blur once again.