Ah, the Fourth of July. This holiday has always held a special significance. It means it's swimming weather; it means pants are retired until at least after the Canfield Fair; it means it's almost my birthday. But most of all, it means that my family does what they do best - cook, laugh and blow stuff up.
Ever since I was little, the Fourth was always my favorite holiday, trumping even Christmas, because what's the point of getting toys you can't play with until the Ohio permafrost melts enough for you to roll a bike down the sidewalk? Fourth of July is summer, and for a kid, summer is king.
Images of Fourths past are still with me. Since we lived in an apartment back in those days, we would go to a relative's house on Warren's west side to do our fireworks, which was fine with me since they had a pool. The younger kids with their sparklers, leaving bright-but-fading-fast trails as they spelled out their names, and older kids who were relegated to firework-fetchers and lighter-finders running around as dads and uncles set up the goods in the driveway, blackened from past explosions ... It seemed to go by much faster then, and before I knew it we were driving through smoky, empty streets, stray whistles and bangs going off in the distance, as if a great battle had just been waged, and we were going home, victorious.
My family did not mess around when it came to fireworks. Snakes? Please. Jumping jacks and sparklers? Go back to Lamesville, grandma. The dads and uncles would spend roughly what my first car cost every year on REAL fireworks: big, heavy bricks with great names like "Untamed Retribution" and illustrations of eagles and fighter jets and Abe Lincoln on them; fountains, the ones that make the delayed boom seconds after you see the flash, then explode into spirals of glitter and color. Ones where you need to know someone with a couple of acres to set them off.
It got to the point that Phantom Fireworks was sending out our catalog while there was still snow on the ground, and by the time the Fourth rolled around, everyone got their complimentary T-shirts and hats in return for our loyalty. I can hear my dad calling my mom on the way home: "How much did you spend?" "Ahh, only $600, but we got $1,200 worth of stuff!" (The rest of the conversation has been censored).
Our area has always known the importance of fireworks. I mean, what's not to love? Well, the smell of sulphur. But we blow off fireworks for everything. Every time the Raiders scored a touchdown, boom went the dynamite. Every time there was a festival or street fair, kaboomey. New Year's Eve, better pull on your sweater and go outside. It helps that we have our own fireworks magnate in town. You go, Bruce Zoldan. Zambelli family, you rule. Someday perhaps one of your fine companies will be preparing my cremated remains into a Hunter S. Thompson-esque ultimate goodbye cannon of loud, bright awesomeness.
Of course, you have to follow laws. Of course, you have to be very careful. Just ask my one uncle's reattached fingers. Fireworks aren't kids stuff. That's why my dad recruits my friends I bring out to the house to be his "helpers" - friends, who, when they see what's in the back of the pickup truck, reconsider volunteering and fear for the safety of their nice shirt. (And if you're reading this, Bob Mackey, sorry about your shirt).
Also, it helps to keep a pack of firecrackers in your pocket at all times, for daylong games of dodging-firecrackers-thrown-at-feet-or-under-chair wage on for the 18-and-older crowd. We've learned to be nimble, using the three-second window between the hiss of the fuse and the bang to run roughly 20 yards. We still find stashes of firecrackers hidden in pockets or behind bushes from past battles.
And of course, you have to remember the real reason for the holiday - pride in and appreciation of our country and our freedoms. Despite my ooh-ing and aah-ing over pretty lights in the sky, I still get teared up every time I listen to the "1812 Overture" or "Stars and Stripes Forever," thinking those patriotic thoughts. Fireworks make the perfect catalyst for reflection.
So this year, may your families be safe and happy and enjoy what I hope will be a rain-free Fourth. Our party's numbers have diminished, as friends and family move on, but we still have as big of a blast as ever.