Before I dated my husband, the closest I came to fireworks was viewing them on the Washington Mall with strangers. My husband is a devoted family man and works long hours as a surgeon saving lives. But when it comes to fireworks, he’s really charged. This man drives to every show in town and some far away. We have seen fireworks in several cities across the country. The best was Seattle, where Independence Day festivities began with a military helicopter flying a giant US flag over the crowd while piping “America the Beautiful.”It was an unforgettable sight, not to mention the strange sensation of wearing a coat and hat on that July night in the chilly Pacific Northwest.
I don’t need to tell you that watching fireworks in the DC Area involves sweating, crowds and mosquitoes, not necessarily in that order. Someone should warn the Obama’s about that. Like many families in the region, we pack blankets and bug spray, then dash out early for the best view. One year, we smugly waited on the rooftop of a fancy downtown hotel, and were thoroughly disappointed when smoke in the sky hid the actual fireworks. To my surprise, it is better to be on the ground.
Lying under the darkening sky, that first explosion signals the excitement to come. While some hate the blistering blasts, whistles and thuds, my kids, who inherited their father’s appreciation for all things deafening, are delighted. Even as babies, they would sleep through a rock concert, or clap with glee at a thundering storm. When my daughter Danielle was a toddler, her favorite part was “the grand tamale.” Now, as their sophistication grows, they’ve learned the names of “aerial repeaters” and studied the chemical properties of pyrotechnics. Me, I like the colors.
Whenever we see official fireworks stores, often inside the border of a state that doesn’t actually allow fireworks, we stop and shop. So, why are these stores in states where it’s illegal to shoot them off? Anyway, the shopkeepers make you sign an affidavit swearing on your first born that you won’t ignite them inside illegal borders like Maryland and DC. Virginia consents to some small fireworks without a permit – sparklers, fountains, crackle and strobes – but they come with vigorous warnings from the State Fire Marshall.
One state with almost no restrictions is West Virginia, so our family and some equally-crazed friends make a regular summer pilgrimage for an undisturbed performance that reverberates through the mountains. My husband shoots off his mini-rockets, and after watching from a safe distance, the kids are released to gallop through the meadow seeking the plastic parachute men that fell from the sky. True bliss for all.
When the fireworks show comes to your town, remember to pack the essentials and bring someone to cheer with you. No matter where you were born or what language you speak, this American tradition is for everyone to enjoy.
Freelance writer and photographer specializing in vivid, deeply reported stories about food, travel and family.