Celebrating the Fourth in the Cemetery

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Around here, we have our choices of ways to celebrate the Fourth of July. In the town next to us, dozens of residents gather to read the Declaration of Independence, including the names of all the signers. This is done at their historic Meetinghouse which looks like something out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The shared reading takes place during the day and lots of people attend. But mostly we celebrate with fireworks, which I love. Throughout the three-day weekend, if I miss them in one town, I can find them in another. Or, if I plan it right, I can go to three or four fireworks displays over the long weekend. This year, there has been so much rain some of the shows were canceled or postponed for the weather. I have always wanted to go to the celebration in the nearby town of Greenville. It’s unique as they have the fireworks sometime around 11:30 at night after a full day of events and picnics. It’s not so much the fireworks people look forward to as what happens next. After the fireworks, at midnight, the entire town turns out for the Pots and Pans Parade. Everyone brings a skillet and a big spoon or a pot and a lid and they engage in making the most god-awful noise you can imagine. They are preceded in their parade by all the town’s emergency vehicles, lights whirling, sirens blasting but these big engines can’t hold a candle to the noise the people can make with their kitchen equipment. I think it’s the only town in the world that celebrates this way and I have no idea how they got started on such a tradition. And why it takes place at midnight. But it must be very satisfying on some level.

For some reason, cemeteries figure prominently in our local celebrations. Most years I enjoy going down to the end of this road, setting up a chair in the town cemetery and watching the fireworks burst up high over the lake. But this year, on the night of the Fourth, I was working at my desk and suddenly heard the popping sounds of gunshots. I went to the window and could see the great colorful blasts lift above the trees. It’s not the same but I can still watch the show from my front door. Light travels faster than sound so there is this delay, the big explosion of color and a few seconds later, the muffled booms. Kind of like the audio delay of a foreign correspondent on TV, reporting live from a remote part of the globe.

Because of rain, the fireworks in Harrisville, the other town where I enjoy fireworks, were postponed to Sunday night, the end of the somewhat soggy three-day weekend. I got home from a barbecue and decided to go to that show, which is about 15 or 20 minutes of bombast — chest-shuddering blasts and brilliant founts of color and sparkle. They set the fireworks up in the town cemetery which is called Island Cemetery — it’s not really an island but either it once was or else it’s an island that was connected with a causeway that grew or something like that, anyway, it takes imagination to think it’s an island except that it juts out into the lake more like a peninsula. Lots of my old friends like Bill and Laney House and the wonderful and colorful Harold Clark, no relation, are buried there. But on the Fourth, the fire department hauls in the big trailer of fireworks and you can’t tell me these guys aren’t like kids in a candy store having the fun of setting off these rockets. I always like to watch from the church, which is right near the cemetery. That’s as close as they will allow you get anyway. But it’s close enough to see the big flares of fire that propel the rockets up into the air from their brackets on the ground and then the clouds of smoke that follow. The sound of the rockets blasting up out of their cylinders is almost as thrilling as the explosions that follow. There are trees in the way and a rise that blocks a full view but if I stand on tiptoe, I can see this shroud of gunsmoke and the outlines of the big headstones illuminated by the fire of the rockets shooting up.

Most of the town watches from the other side of the lake so there were just a handful of us watching from beside the church. We could hear the others in the distance cheering and screaming at the most spectacular shots, or sighing at the gentle showers of brilliant sparks that drifted down toward us from above. Then they set off the big finale, boom boom boom and an amazing razzle-dazzle, flashes of blinding color and brilliance, so much noise and commotion it makes me laugh. Then the huge silence that follows. After that, I saw through the smoke and darkness our town policeman, Buddy, coming toward me. He greeted me by name, nice to know the town cop is able to recognize me in the darkness. I asked him if they set the fireworks up right in the cemetery. I’ve never actually seen how they do it and it seemed hard to believe they would do that, or even logistically how they could fit the trailer of rockets between monuments. He said yes, it’s the best place in town to do it because everyone can watch them around the lake. “It’s not the only place but it’s the best, really.” Then he said, “Besides, nobody lives there.” And then, he added, drily, “Nobody’s ever said anything.”

I came home smiling. No matter where I go around here to celebrate the Fourth, I am never disappointed.


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