Fourth of July in Our Front Yard

Every year, Dad would put on a real show. He would visit all the fireworks stands (yes you could actually buy them openly in California at that time and did not have to go to Mexico for them). He would select only the best rockets and fountains and whirligigs. There were fire crackers (how he would laugh when he set those off) and roman candles. He also got sparklers in every color and worms that Deb and I could light ourselves. He had it all choreographed. It was awesome. My sister, Deb, and I could not wait for the day to finally arrive because it was going to be glorious, let me tell you.

My dad was a veteran of World War II. He served in the Pacific. He flew reconnaissance. He wasn’t the pilot. He was the guy on his belly in the glass bubble taking the photographs. He and the rest of the team were the first guys in. They didn’t know what they would find or what might find them. Not all of them always made it back. I still have, somewhere, some of the maps printed on silk in waterproof inks that were the result of his photography. So, while Deb and I never gave a thought to what the fireworks really meant, I am sure that Dad did.

But before the fireworks display would begin, there was the barbecue. No steaks, rare and juicy for the 4th; no we had hot dogs and hamburgers with all the fixings. There was corn on the cob and potato salad (homemade – the best!). We ate more watermelon than we could really hold and the piece-de-resistance was homemade vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup. We all took a turn on the churn and we always wished there was more.

I can remember running around the front yard after dark with several sparklers in each hand, jumping and twirling and watching the streaks of light.  Deb would do the same. Our dog, Parky, would chase us around the yard barking and snapping at the sparks. It was the most fun. Even Mom and Grandma and Rod (Grandma’s beau) would join in with the sparklers. When we had worn ourselves out with that it was time for the show.

Dad would spend the morning in the garage preparing it all. We weren’t allowed in there while he was working and we were told not to peek when he was done. First he would stand and just look at all the fireworks. He was working it out in his head; what would be the perfect order?  He had this big board that he used year after year until it had so many holes in it that he needed a new one. He would attach the fireworks to the board with wood screws, first drilling pilot holes through their bases. When we heard the drill running, we knew what he was doing. A shiver of excitement would run right through me to hear that drill on that day.

Just about the entire neighborhood was doing the same thing. All the barbecues were lit and the aromas in the air were wonderful. Some of our neighbors would start their displays sooner than us and some later. It was almost as if by agreement that the shows were staggered, the better to prolong the fun. As the evening progressed the sharp tang of gun powder would fill the air. The booms and snaps and crackles were almost overwhelming. When Deb and I could no longer wait for ours, Dad would drag out the board.

Both Mom and Dad smoked; they preferred cigarettes. But a couple of times during the year, Dad would have a cigar. The 4th of July was always one of those times. Dad would place the board in the middle of the front yard (we lived on a corner and the front yard was bigger than the back), and then he would light his cigar. That’s how Deb and I would know that the fun was about to begin. He would puff that thing until it was glowing cherry red and touch it to the first firework. We would hold our breaths. Then all of a sudden, there it was, the noise the light, the colors, the smells. It was heaven in our front yard. He never set them off one right smack after the other. There was always a pause. If we didn’t let Parky run up to the spent firework and give it what for before continuing, he would have a fit. Some dogs run and hide from loud noises, but not him. Parky would finish, Dad would puff, and BANG, off would go another one!

We never worried about the rockets. The entire neighborhood was out and on the alert for where they came down. Even so, Dad kept them to a minimum. I just loved it all, it didn’t matter what they were.

We ooohed and ahhhed. We applauded and yelled. And Dad just grinned this great big happy grin. He had done good and he knew it.

After it was all over, we would sit around the remnants of the coals in the barbecue and roast marshmallows. We would go over and over all the fireworks that we had just seen, extolling the beauty of this one or the loudness of that one. We would laugh at Parky as he would try to bury the spent fireworks and give him a roasted marshmallow for his perseverance.

These days, where we live now in Wyoming, our neighbors have access to nearly commercial grade fireworks. They are so much noisier than what my dad had. They also go higher in the sky and blossom bigger and brighter and more colorfully.

But I’m older now, and these “bigger and better” fireworks don’t hold the fascination for me. By comparison, my dad’s fireworks displays were paltry, but they still shine brightly in my memory and nothing will ever diminish that.

Published by Dianne Lehmann

I'm a writer. But I'm also a wife and a mom to a couple of fur babies. You could call me a cook (but never a chef, I'm not that good) and provisioner as well. Laundress? Yeah. Probably. I design jewelry and I crochet. But mostly I love to write. I love words and how they sound. I love their meanings and origins. I love stringing them together. And of course, I love to read. Thinking about it just now, I realize that what I love most is life and the people around me with a special place set aside for my wonderful husband, our adorable dog and our inscrutable cat. It's the world and the people in it that fuels my writing. So thanks to you all for being the amazing beings that you are.

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