In the next town to ours is a company that manufactures some of the best fireworks in the country. As a result, most towns around here hold extravagant fireworks shows on the Fourth. One of my favorites is in a nearby town, where the show is hosted and paid for by a private lake club. Over the years, they’ve perfected a system that involves a raft with remote-control ignition. I believe they lost the float one year–with disastrous results, but without injury, thank goodness. I once saw a list of the club’s 50 different firings, with names such as “Golden Rain,” “Spring All Year,” “Double Willow,” “Chrysanthemum,” and “Milky Way.” (I especially liked “Titanium Salute,” in this modern age of hip and knee replacements.) Just reading those names fills my skies with a shower of colorful sparks.
It’s a private club, but if I want, I can take my boat out onto the lake, lie back, and watch the show of light and color explode overhead. Otherwise, the best seats for this display are in the town cemetery, just across the road from the club. Last year, friends and their children came for dinner, which we grilled outside, listening to the preliminary pops of home fireworks as the sky grew dark. It was a hot night with clear skies, perfect for the celestial show.
Around 8:30 we drove down the road and parked near the cemetery, where our ancestors have always enjoyed the best view of the lake and the mountain. Carrying folding chairs and blankets, we walked the rest of the way into the graveyard, where many townspeople had already staked their claims to good seats. It’s an old cemetery, with faded slate stones dating back before the Revolution. Next to a large Celtic cross, we set up our chairs and spread blankets for the younger members of our party. Comfortable, we sat and talked, waiting for the initial flare. Around us, the entire cemetery had suddenly come to life, with excited families exchanging news, sitting between headstones and under the beautiful spreading trees overlooking the lake. The noise resembled that of any theater audience awaiting the show.
As we chattered away, darkness descended. The first salvo, a line of white that shot straight up and blossomed high in the sky, silenced us all. Over the next half hour, we were treated to repeated explosions of golden rain, curlicues of color, and resounding booms that shook the earth (and undoubtedly a few bones) beneath us. When the finale came, we weren’t disappointed by the cacophony of explosions, whistles, retorts, and bombs bursting in air. We screamed, whooped, laughed, shouted our approval, and generally acted like 10-year-olds in our unbridled enthusiasm.
We’ve come to equate these warlike sounds with the end of a war and the birth of our nation. Beneath us there in that cemetery were some of our own war dead, who had perished in one of the many conflicts this nation has fought. Likely the last sounds some of them heard were the very sounds that were delighting us that night. Even now, these sounds are ringing out over neighborhoods in Baghdad and Kabul. Sitting in that profound place that bridges history and the present, joy and sorrow, I felt the weary irony that teeters between the fearsome face of war and the exhilaration of our freedoms. May we always strive to know the difference.
Edie Clark’s memoir, The Place He Made, revised and updated, is now available at: edieclark.com