Light Fuse Get Away Fast

"When you were a child, you always said the Fourth of July was your favorite holiday," Dad remembered. Those childhood Fourths were filled with family traditions, friendly gatherings, anticipation, and sensory delights.

First thing in the morning we marched our American flag out to the front yard to display it for the day, then we launched our parachutes before breakfast.

We would have purchased our firecrackers days before, each with a crisp five dollar bill. The best prices were usually found inside the Walgreens store at Gateway Mall. Buying our own fireworks was a big incentive for learning to do arithmetic in our heads so we could literally get the most bang for our bucks. We had to decide whether to buy the large economy package of bottle rockets, or just buy a dozen at a higher price each in order to have more money to spend on fountains, helicopters, and grasshoppers. We did math to determine how many packs of Black Cats we needed to get through the day with no leftovers, but not run short. Although our neighbors insisted that children must have the very long metal sparklers, we decided we prefered the little Chinese paper sparklers that changed colors better, and didn't spend our money based on peer pressure!

A trip to the swimming pool took up the middle part of the day, and in later years, sailing at Holmes Lake. Sometimes a relaxing nap was required, and other years just suggested. Then it was time for the three family get-together, with eight kids of stair-stepping ages, and six parents. A different family hosted the event each year, so we got practice being good hosts and polite guests. Big kids were expected to include the little ones in our activities so no one felt left out. We kids would make crayon drawings on red, white, and blue construction paper for placemats, and use our best handwriting on placecards. We had to budget our annual package of assorted colored paper to have enough red for Valentines, the Fourth, and Christmas!

After perfectly broiled Nebraska corn-fed T-bones there would be hide-and-seek until it got dark. Each family had a designated launching pad in the yard, and safety was the rule. While dads launched the more dangerous firecrackers, children were taught to light their five-dollars' worth carefully and one person at a time. The result was as much a proud moment celebrating our developing skill as it was a pyrotechnic display! By evening we would have carefully analyzed our purchases to choreograph how to build the excitement toward a grand finale, alternate sound and light impressions, gold and colored, ground and sky.

The smoke kept away the mosquitos. At the end of our family display we could climb a hill or get up on the roof to watch big displays out at the country clubs. Disappointment and let down that the Fourth was over for another year was balanced by personal satisfaction, and physical exhaustion after a day spent outside. We shared slices of chilled watermelon, spitting pits for distance and accuracy, while the moms collected their dishes and coolers.

The Fourth of July was more problematic when two of my sons had asthma, and fireworks became illegal except for large civic displays. Not all parents supervised children to ensure a safe, happy Fourth the way the three dads had in my childhood. An attitude that city regulations were intended to be broken as far as possible unless the police arrived ran counter to what I tried to teach my children the rest of the year.

This year I spent the Fourth of July with my dad. I watched rabbits playing chase and leapfrog amid the fireflies, and later in the evening being backlit by fireworks and hazy smoke. I wondered if Van Gogh's "Starry Night" might actually be a bunny silouette against firefly and firework light.

When I returned to class after the holiday, I told the older students about the bunnies and fireflies. We had studied "Starry Night" together, and offered our personal interpretations year before last. And so, I was very touched yesterday when a dear student gave me a thank you note written in her beautiful cursive and illustrated with the bunny rabbits' Fourth of July.

Since moving to Plano in 1990, I've looked forward to the first appearance of the ruby-throated hummingbirds in my yard. The date is always uncertain, but the sensory delight is guaranteed. So nice that it occurred on my oldest son's twenty-fifth birthday today!

© 2007 Nancy L. Ruder

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