I've always loved fireworks, but I don't think I realized how much I loved them until I went three years without them. You see, in the summer of 2004, I was on a youth group trip up in Washington. I believe we were on Mount Rainier on the Fourth, and we didn't really acknowledge Independence Day very much at all. Then in 2005 I was home, but the fireworks were rained out. In 2006, I was in Israel, so we spent our 4th of July swimming in the Dead Sea instead of seeing a parade and dancing on a boat instead of watching fireworks. So when I was home again in 2007, I was ridiculously excited for the fireworks... and then they were so low, we could barely see them. Huge disappointment, but then I had a great view of fireworks multiple times a year from my dorm room window for the next two school years.
But enough on that tangent. This weekend has been a family reunion on my dad's side of the family, which means that even though some people had already left town and some people stayed back at my aunt's house, our walk to the fireworks was a parade of 23 people. It's a 1.25 mile walk that seemed like an impossible feat when I was little.
Usually, it's cool enough by nighttime that we need to change into jeans and long sleeves before the fireworks. We also have to coat ourselves with bug spray. This year, out of habit, we did the same. Well--most of us kept the short sleeves, because it was still pretty warm. It turns out the jeans were a bad idea. Between heat and humidity, we weren't exactly chilled on the way to or from the fireworks. "Melting" is more the word I would use.
The walk that was so impossible when I was five is a piece of cake at 21. We've gotten used to keeping a pretty good pace on the way to fireworks, but with all the out-of-towners in town this year, we suddenly had three-year-old legs at the back of the line. At first, the front group (because 23 people will always turn into three or four groups on a long walk) kept slowing down and stopping to make sure the back group would be able to find the way, but eventually we just made sure they had someone with them who know how to get there.
It's funny how I have more memories about the walks to and from the fireworks than I do about the fireworks. Fireworks really don't look much different from year to year, and conversations don't usually extend too far beyond "Ooh" and "Ahh." But some of my best cousin-bonding-time has been on those walks. From this year, I'll remember that on the way there, my sister's fiancé got the whole front group singing a few lines of "Living on a Prayer," which sounded way better than "Happy Birthday" earlier in the evening, and that he improvised a song about my oldest sister; and I'll remember that on the way back, my brother-in-law (and later my sister) attacked me with a nice warm blanket.
And this year, I'll remember the fireworks, too.
I watched as we spread out half a dozen blankets that somehow still weren't quite enough for all of us and my cousins' kids bought the glow-sticks we've long outgrown--which, by the way, have gotten way cooler. I stretched out next to my cousin, and the fireworks appeared off to the side instead of straight ahead, much closer than I ever remember them being. When they got high enough, it looked like the sparks were coming down right on top of us. I could feel some of those big booms in my entire chest.
And then we realized that these tiny bugs on us were actually ashes. Yeah... We've never been that close before.
I asked my cousin if she remembered when we had names for all the different kinds of fireworks. She did, and even remembered a bunch of the names. I'd only remembered one name, and while she struggled to think of what she was missing, she said, "Geez, ask me to remember five years back, why don'tcha."
Five years? Was that right? That had been the summer before seventh grade, and here I am about to start my fourth year of college... "That was almost ten years ago." We marveled at the passage of time, felt old, acknowledged that we're not really old, and decided to feel young instead.
Those fireworks left me with a great big grin, as they often do. And as we all lay there being amazed at those explosions in the sky, I thought about how perfect it was to have so much of our huge family from all over the country right here in one place. It was good, and the kind of simplicity that I think adulthood tends to forget about.
So while I'm not a child anymore, I count last night as a very sweet childhood memory.