Commentary: Fireworks on the Sound

FI-Robert-WalshYou’ve probably already heard the fireworks as the Fourth of July approaches. If you have dogs, they’ve already leaped under the bed as your neighbors begin their explosive amateur hour that inevitably ends up with an emergency room visit.

Growing up, the Fourth of July fireworks display was the one time our entire town got together. We’d gather at the beach, spread out our blankets and watch the lifeguards try to keep people from swimming. In the old days before people cared about human life, the fireworks were set off on the beach itself. The burning cinders from the big ones would land among us if the wind was right, and the roof of the pavilions would be scarred with black streaks the next morning. A visit to the rest room meant a long, winding path through irritated citizenry as you struggled to avoid spilling drinks or stepping on others in the dark. (The irritation increased exponentially on the return trip.) In short, there were few bathroom breaks on this night.

The real fireworks occurred amid the traffic jam afterwards. Moments after cheering as one in celebrating their country’s independence, weary parents erupted into bumper-to-bumper battle in a desperate attempt to make it home before their children urinated in the car.

For a few glorious years, we attacked the fireworks display by sea. My mom would pack up the cooler and herd us onto our cramped motorboat. The motor was broken so we couldn’t move in reverse. The kids had orders to gently guide our boat out of the slip by pulling on the boats to either side of us. We were to do this as quietly as possible, especially if there were people on those boats. We became adept at avoiding eye contact as we manhandled our way down their boat, gently pushing off as my dad held the wheel and stared straight ahead. Left unsaid was an unspoken trust that our neighbors would take pity on us enough not to mention this unforgivable lack of seamanship.

Motoring into the throngs of boats clogging Long Island Sound, we’d drop anchor and commence whining about all the things my mom had forgotten to pack during her long hours of solitary preparation. We’d wait for it to get dark by lighting a few sparklers, the only fireworks my dad ever allowed. When the town fireworks began, we tooted the horn after each fireball to express our pleasure. As the last embers from the finale floated down around us, we returned to port with heavy hearts: Dad was a Navy man, and that meant we needed to clean the boat thoroughly before we were allowed to head for home.

Regardless of how we saw them, watching the fireworks was one of my fondest memories of growing up in Connecticut. However, out of respect for pets and veterans with PTSD, please wait until the scheduled night in your town to set off your own fireworks.

Here’s hoping we meet under the stars with a properly packed cooler. For those of you planning your own elaborate fireworks display, we’ll see you at the hospital.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.net and contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.

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