Thursday, June 29, 2006

The Fourths of July

Loretta’s Very Special List Friday topic is to list the places I’ve spent 4th of July. It’s a fitting start to the long holiday weekend to think of Independence Days past and how we celebrated them.

As a small child in San Mateo, California (a suburb just south of San Francisco), we spent the Fourth of July eating barbecued hamburgers for dinner and wriggling with excitement about the box of fireworks we’d watch our dad light in the street out in front of our house. Come nighttime, every family on the street would be outside on their driveways, watching as the dads set off those home-sized rockets and smokey whistlers and things. I found it all quiet scary, having been obsessed with a Tab paperback book about boy who had gone blind when a firecracker he was holding exploded. The book was mostly about how he got a guide dog (and I desperately wanted a dog), but that first chapter set up of how he became blind made a huge impression on me. My brother and sister would be twirling and waving their sparklers with wild abandon, while I cautiously made little squiggles and made sure to keep it as far away from my eyes as I possibly could.

In my high school years, we moved to Los Altos Hills, California, further down the peninsula from SF. There was a hillside a few miles away from our house where, when parked on the road, we could look out over the southern end of the San Francisco Bay and watch the fireworks displays in the distance from 5 or 6 different communities right along the bay. I liked that–it was quiet and peaceful and, of course, there was little risk of injury to my eyes.

In college, I spent a summer or two working at Marriott’s Great America in Santa Clara (right across the street from where PIQF is held every year). I was on the ride operations crew for the double decker carousel at the very front of the park, which was a fun ride to work, actually. Everyone, young and old alike, rode that ride on their way into the park and on their way out. Great America had fireworks set to music every night. But on the 4th of July, the fireworks show was quite the extravaganza, shown to Stars and Stripes Forever and other such patriotic songs. Very festive, and it was hard not to get teary-eyed even if it was sort of hokey. I loved seeing the faces of the exhausted but awestruck kids as they watched.

I spent two summers in Ithaca, New York during law school, and saw the fireworks sitting in the football stadium at Cornell both summers. There was quite a tradition around Ithaca fireworks. You had to get your stadium seat in the earling evening, well before dark, because you wouldn’t want to miss the exciting entertainment of the local firefighters covering the football turf with some flame retardant stuff and then hosing everything down so falling sparks wouldn’t ignite. This always degenerated into the teams of firefighters spraying each other with hoses, to the loud cheers of spectators. One particularly hot and humid year, I remember the loud announcements through the evening urging people to make use of the Red Cross bus parked at the end of the stadium, in case of heat stroke or other illness...And then during the fireworks display, one rocket went awry and shot straight into the side of the Red Cross bus with a huge BANG. No one was hurt, but for those of us with wicked senses of humor, it was hilarious.

In New Hampshire, I usually trekked with friends to the high school field in Concord or some spot nearby to watch the town fireworks. It was usually a pleasant show, if you didn’t mind the swarming mosquitoes.

One year – maybe my second or third in New Hampshire – I decided that I was going to experience seeing the fireworks over the river in Boston and hearing the Boston Pops play on the esplanade. I’d joined this activity group (in the hope of meeting some nice, eligible, non-lawyer men) and so agreed to go with some folks who were planning an excursion. We set off in the morning, stopping along the way to pick up more people I’d never met before (all of whom turned out to be women older than me, by the way), until we made our way to the northern-most transit station to take the "T" into Boston. We picnicked on the esplanade, far far away from where the Pops were’d have had to have gotten there DAYS head to stake out turf in sight of them. But there were speakers throughout the area broadcasting their music in a loud, tinny fashion. The people watching was among the most fascinating I’ve ever seen, but the whole area was MOBBED. I spent much of the time wondering who WERE those people I was with and WHAT THE HECK was I doing there. Once darkness fell, everyone crowded to the chain-link fence at the edge of the river to watch the fireworks, which were truly spectacular. Then, as soon as they ended, there was a mass surge across the bridge toward the T station. It was frightening, to find myself in that massive crush of people. I have never been so relieved to get home as I was after that long day. To tell you the truth, I was pleased to have had the experience, but I enjoy having done it more than I enjoyed doing it, if you know what I mean. Since then, I have watched the Boston Pops’ Fourth of July concert on television with great appreciation that I am NOT there.

Among my most memorable Fourths of July, perhaps, are the ones I spent on Nantucket. I vacationed there for several summers with a boyfriend from the before-Roger era. Nantucket has a charming Independence Day parade down Main Street, complete with little kids on bicycles bedecked with red, white and blue crepe paper and old fashioned firetrucks with Dalmation mascots. The day itself was spent lounging on the beach, sunning, reading, swimming. We’d eventually make our way to Jetties Beach toward evening to eat gourmet sandwiches and drink champagne on the beach, then watch fireworks over the water. Those were lovely holidays, even if the accompanying relationship fizzled thereafter.

In Healdsburg, we usually get together with our friends the O’Connors for a casual barbecue, then head up to the golf course hill to watch the town fireworks. Margaritas and much laughter are usually involved. One memorable year, the golf course folks forgot to turn off the sprinklers and every one spent the evening hastily picking up blankets and chairs and sprinting to safety as yet another series of sprinklers would start spraying. This year, I may stay home to stay with Gemma in case she freaks at all the loud noise. We’ll see. If so, I’ll be happy watching the Boston Pops from the peace of my own home.

Whether you like noisy fireworks overhead, subtle flashes of color in the distance, a hot sparkler in your hand, or the Boston Pops on tv, may this Fourth of July find you happy and having fun with friends and family!


  1. Anonymous2:53 PM

    Great reminisces, Diane. It's fun to celebrate the holiday in different parts of the country, no? And those photos are fantastic! Did you take them all?

  2. I totally agree, once is enough in Boston, and the mobs of people were scary. So glad I had the chance to do it. Nothing beats a child on your lap watching fireworks! Happy 4th.

  3. Anonymous5:09 AM

    One of my all-time favorite books: "Follow My Leader."


  4. Great post Diane!

    Waving from Mountain View ~ ~ ~