I was visiting with some friends last week, and the talk turned to the impending Fourth of July holiday weekend and the various ways we celebrate it. Now please, know that I, as much as anybody, appreciate the real reason for the holiday, and my thoughts and prayers are never far from those who protect our freedom. But this particular conversation was about fireworks.
John Adams, one of the "traitors to the crown" who put his name at the bottom of the Declaration of Independence, predicted that the anniversary of our country's birth would be celebrated with "bonfires and illuminations" from one end of the nation to the other - and although he thought the day of celebration would be July 2 (the date the Declaration was agreed upon instead of July 4 (the date Thomas Jefferson inscribed at the top of the page) he was dead on it with the rest of his prediction.
In fact, in 1777, on our nation's first birthday, Congress gave an order for a spectacular fireworks display in Philadelphia, and Americans have been marking the day with aerial pyrotechnics ever since.
Aerial pyrotechnics. Y'all didn't know I knew such a big word, did you? It means bottle rockets, basically. You know, like the ones that leave a red glare before bursting in air.
But anyway, a bunch of us were talking about fireworks displays and it brought back a lot of memories.
When I was little I used to beg my mama-an-em to take me to down to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. Sometimes they would and sometimes they wouldn't - depending on my daddy's mood, his willingness to fight the traffic afterward and the amount of moonshine whiskey he had consumed with his barbecued ribs that day.
The primary gathering place for that local display was always the Newton Plaza shopping center, right across U.S. Highway 278 from the Buck 'n Kid restaurant and down below where Sears used to be.
Daddy would always park next to somebody in a pick-up truck in hopes that they would invite us to climb up in the back with them for a better view - and they always did. It sounds like a small thing, I know, but you'd be surprised how much better you think you can see something hundreds of feet in the air by elevating yourself to the level of a pick-up bed.
When I got older, I started driving myself to some of the larger displays in the Atlanta area. A couple of times I went to Lenox Square, but usually I wound up at Stone Mountain. Now you talk about traffic! It's next to impossible to leave Stone Mountain Park after the fireworks show on the Fourth of July. It's easier to just spend the night - which I got in big trouble for doing on one particular holiday weekend, but that's another story for another day.
And for years I attended the Braves games in Atlanta on the Fourth, even when the Braves were really bad, just to see the fireworks after the game. And yes, I was there for the game against the Mets the night Rick Camp hit a homerun at 4 a.m.
In 1980, I spent the Fourth in Washington, D.C. Now you talk about a fireworks display! Brother, they had one!
They were supposed to bounce laser beams off the Washington Monument, too - sort of a forerunner, I suppose, to the laser show at the aforementioned Stone Mountain Park, but they couldn't get the lasers to work.
Hey. It was Washington, D.C., in 1980 - at the end of the Carter presidency. A lot of things didn't work in Washington.
As of late, we have spent many, if not most, of our Independence Days vacationing in North Myrtle Beach. They have an official fireworks display there but it doesn't elicit as many "oohs" and "ahs" as you might imagine. Too many trips to Disney World, I guess.
I guess most of us are a little jaded nowadays. The most impressive thing about being at Myrtle Beach on the Fourth are the thousands of private fireworks shows that go on up and down the beach for hours. We're not just talking about bottle rockets and M-80s and sparklers. You can buy stuff at South of the Border these days that would make Walt Disney envious.
The greatest July 4 fireworks display I ever saw actually took place on July 3. We were in the Hollywood Bowl, in 2002 - the first Independence Day after 9/11 and everyone was scared to death that there would be another attack somewhere that day. But 10,000 of us filled up the Bowl anyway to hear James Taylor in concert, accompanied by John Williams and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. It was one of the greatest shows I have ever experienced, and the finale was a 30-minute fireworks extravaganza, perfectly choreographed to patriotic music.
When John Williams broke into the "Stars and Stripes Forever" and the 10,000 people in the stands waved the 10,000 flags that had been given out, tears flowed from my eyes and I was most definitely proud to be an American.
And I still am. Happy Birthday, dear country - and many happy returns.
Darrell Huckaby is a local author and educator. He can be reached at dHuck08@bellsouth.net.