When I was a kid, there was a street in Plano where my family and I used to go watch fireworks on the 4th of July. It was a deserted road next to a big empty field, which is now probably the site of a trendy housing development or maybe a strip mall. But back then it was empty except for weeds and wildflowers, giving us a perfect view of the stadium a couple hundred yards away where the show took place. Every year, we caravanned over in two or three cars (Dad’s Checker Cab of course and maybe my aunt’s Toyota), arriving well before the sun went down in order to get a good spot. The street was somewhat out-of-the-way but was not unknown—others used it as well and by nightfall it was always full of cars, people, and kids running around.
The years were so much the same that they blend together in my mind as one jumbled memory. We hung around on car bumpers and blankets listening to the radio, fighting off mosquitoes, playing frisbee, and drinking Dr. Peppers in our red, white, and blue garb. (I remember one particularly gaudy year when I was wearing a red tank top, blue jean shorts, a white belt, red socks, and white Keds. At the time, I was quite proud of my patriotic fashion statement, but looking back at the pictures makes me cringe.) There was even an ice cream truck whose driver wised up to the idea of serving the crowded little street, so every year he appeared and we enjoyed popsicles and Eskimo bars while staring in the direction of the stadium.
The people inside obviously had some sort of pre-firework entertainment. Music and cheering could be heard, and one year sky-divers parachuted into the stadium—an unexpected treat for us. Whatever went on inside that arena always was, and still is, a mystery to me. I remember wondering what those people were seeing and coming up with my own versions of their entertainment, but never once do I remember feeling envious of them. The 4th of July in the Kinder family meant parking on the side of a road and enjoying the colorful display from our lawn chairs and tail gates. This wasn't something you bought a ticket for.
Waiting for the show to begin seemed to take forever. The sky grew darker and darker, and with every star that came out, we kids grew more and more restless. My brother Pat, five years older than me, remained a bit more composed than our cousin Kelley, three years my junior, and me. He sat with the adults and attempted to restrain any anxious tendencies. Kelley and I, however, were shamelessly impatient, often inventing creative chants such as, "WE WANT FIREWORKS!" which we repeated over and over, much to the annoyance of everyone else.
There were no cell phones, no Kindles, no portable DVD players, not even a Game Boy to distract us from the snail-like pace of time. The only way we even knew how slowly it ticked by was from our parents’ watches, and they got tired of us asking. Sometimes we had sparklers to keep us busy for a few minutes, but for the most part we had to just wait it out, every excruciating second.
And then... just when our impatient cries had reached their whiniest levels, just when the adults were probably ready to throttle us, the first bright explosion lit up the sky. You could sense the excitement of the moment—people standing up, turning their heads, leaning forward, the collective intake of breath as the first firecracker faded into a smoky outline and drifted off with the wind, carrying the smell of sulfur with it. From that moment on, there was no bickering, no whining, just a symphony of Oo's and Ah's and interjections of "Wow! That was cool!" and "That one was huge!"
The Kinders do not watch fireworks in reverent silence. We comment. Do we remember that one from last year? Was that a new color? I've never seen one like that. Ooo, that looked like a flower. No, it looked like a balloon. No, I saw a spider. Did you see that one? Of course I saw it, I'm right here. That one was sparkly. I like the ones you can see on the way up. I like the ones that make the whistly noise. I like the purple ones. I like them all. Forty minutes of non-stop descriptive chatter about something that we are all watching at the same time. And afterwards... we rehash it all again in the past tense. It is our way.
In addition to the color commentary of the explosions, Pat and I also had a game we liked to play. Several airplanes circled the area repeatedly during the show. (It was not until later that I realized they were there to watch as well; as a kid, I just thought that was a busy flight path for small planes.) The game was simple—count how many planes got "killed" by the fireworks. Although of course they were completely safe and nowhere near the actual explosions, every time it appeared that one was blown up by a pink burst of sparks or a strobe-like flash of light, we cheered uproariously for its death. All in good fun.
Every firework display ends with, what is known in Texas as, the "grand finale". This finale consists of setting off dozens and dozens of rockets at the same time so that the eye is blinded by two or three minutes of simultaneous flashes of color, and yes, it is quite grand. Therefore, toward the end of the show, it is traditional for the Kinder commentary to shift from the general Oo's and Ah's to the impulsive predictions. Oh my! I think this is the grand finale! Ooo, no THIS must be the grand finale! Wow! Look at all that! Do you think it's the grand finale? This time I'm SURE, it MUST be the grand finale! Eventually, inevitably, someone was right; it was the grand finale. We whooped and cheered and said “Happy 4th of July!” We smiled and laughed and stared at the giant smoke cloud slowly drifting away from the stadium, knowing it was over, but secretly hoping for one last blue or green ball of flame to appear. Once in awhile, we got our wish.
The ride home was always subdued. We recapped the events of the evening, voted on our favorite parts, and finally drifted into a satisfied quiet. Sometimes, out the car window, we caught glimpses of other firework shows finishing up in the distance and smiled at this unexpected bonus. Often I was asleep, or at least pretending to be, by the time we pulled into the gravel driveway of home.
This is still my favorite way to enjoy the 4th of July. Tomorrow night, the hubby and I will grab some chairs and a blanket and a cooler of drinks and drive out to some out-of-the-way spot, where I will fidget and whine and chant, “WE WANT FIREWORKS!” until the colorful flashes appear in the sky, or he stops my annoying lips with a kiss. Which is a whole other kind of fireworks. :)