I grew up in Bakersfield, California, when it was still a small town. On the Fourth of July, my mom would make her delicious, homemade potato salad, my dad would barbecue hot dogs or hamburgers, and we’d have hot corn on the cob and juicy watermelon. If she had time, my mom would even bake oatmeal cookies for dessert. Sun tea made in a giant pickle jar that my mom saved for just that purpose, rounded out my parents’ beverage, while my sister and I got Kool-Aid! That was a treat, because it had sugar, so we weren’t allowed to have it except on special occasions.
Sometimes we ate outside, but Bakersfield is brutal in the summer, and we didn’t have a patio cover, so we often ate inside. I still remember my dad teasing us by eating his corn on the cob like a typewriter, making a “dinging” sound when he got to the end. We would laugh at each other, with corn kernels hanging on our chins, or watermelon juice running down our hands.
While all the dads gathered the fireworks they’d bought, the kids got sparklers (often lit by our parents’ cigarette lighters), and we’d run around in the street with them fizzing and glimmering behind us. Sometimes they’d drop sparks on our hands, and we’d say, “Ow!” but then we’d go right back to writing our names in the air, or drawing silly pictures with them. This went on quite a while, because I think there were ten or twelve sparklers to a box (shaped like a pencil box). Once it got dark enough, so that one of us, or our mom, had to hold a flashlight for our dad while he found the right spot to light each firework, we’d run to our blanket to watch the show. While we might be watching a glorious fountain spray of fireworks, in our neighbor’s driveway, they might be watching a pinwheel. It was an amazing evening of pyrotechnic bliss, and our dads were the heroes who brought it all to us.
My first son got to experience sparklers, but soon they were outlawed. Too many burn accidents. He got to see some fireworks done in the street by his dad, but, once we moved toward the foothills, those types of fireworks were banned. A fire hazard. Our community started putting on a giant firework show, where everyone in the town drove to a spot, laid out their blankets, and stared up at the explosions of light and sound in the sky. It was beautiful, and still is.
Now, we are lucky enough to be able to watch our town’s fireworks display from the comfort of our own back yard. I make my mom’s potato salad, we barbecue hot dogs or hamburgers, and I boil hot corn on the cob, just like she did. Sometimes we eat outside; most often, we eat inside with the air conditioning. And when the fireworks start, we oo and ahh along with the other neighbors in their respective backyards, while the dogs all bark and howl.
But, even though the show is a beautiful, memorable commemoration to our country’s birth, I sometimes miss those hokey little fireworks that often sputtered out as duds, or fell to the street to spin and gyrate on the ground instead of on the stand provided. Not only were those homemade little displays a tribute to our country’s freedom, they were a celebration of family, and friends, and a camaraderie that is missing in today’s firework extravaganzas. It’s up to us to keep that spirit alive.
Have a “safe and sane” Fourth of July!