I’m not crazy about the Fourth of July – not because of what it is intended to represent, but because it scares the you-know-what out of me.
A few years ago, my oldest daughter won a travel exchange scholarship to Finland. She spent two weeks with a host family who went all out to show their culture, from folk dancing, to their cabin in the mountains, to all the ethnic foods she could eat. Reetta arrived here at the beginning of July, and so we determined to show her the true American spirit.
We packed up a portable grill, hamburgers, hot dogs, and the makings of s’mores and drove three hours to the ocean beaches. With our blankets laid out and our gritty dinner settled in our bellies, we got out our fifty dollars worth of sparklers and a few of the rockets that shoot colored lights into the air. Around us, three thousand people, each with about three thousand dollars worth of military grade fireworks began to set up. It’s a big beach, but with that many people, we had maybe six feet between each encampment. Reetta asked nervously if it was safe, but with ridiculous bravado, we assured her it was fine.
And then the sun began to set.
It started small…the dance of sparklers in over-excited children’s hands, a dozen or so heart-stopping cracks and booms from illegally purchased cannons. Then some Roman candles so close the cinders fell in our hair. Then the ground spinners, sky rockets, crosettes, girandols, flying fish…Shooting over us, around us. Exploding everywhere. The sky was alight with colored gunpowder; the screams of the spectators caught in the cross-fires were drowned out as we coughed and hacked on the acrid smoke. Somewhere a baby cried.
We ran, refugees huddling in our car. Reetta and two of our girls were sobbing in terror. We didn’t stay, but gunned away from no man’s land. The madness went on for mile after terrifying mile.
“Why? What?” Reetta demanded. We tried to brush it off as a recreation of the War of Independence. A reenactment of the heroic suffering of the forefathers. She stared at us in wide-eyed horror.
When we brought her to the airport a few days later, she ran for the plane. We never heard from her again, but I understand she has a career in creating new European peace accords and corresponding arms reductions.
I write this in the early morning of July 3. Already the smell of gunpowder hangs in the air. The dogs pace the house, heads down, tails lowered. Our eyes are blurry from lack of sleep after the last evening’s midnight volley. I look at the clock. It will all be over in 42 hours.
Dear God, deliver us from the fury of the celebrants….
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