The Bombs Bursting in Air by
(289 Stories)

Prompted By Fireworks

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Poor Lucy on the Fourth

I have two granddogs who spent the 4th of July cowering and shaking from fear. Despite taking their Prozac, Flynn Rider (don’t let your kids name a dog after seeing Tangled) and Lucy hate fireworks. So do babies, sensitive preschoolers, and birds, many of which actually die after being blown out of the sky. Every year, fireworks start over 18,000 fires, destroying homes, cars, and forests. Emergency rooms are filled with folks who injure themselves setting off their own explosives. Veterans and victims of shootings struggle with PTSD during the first week of July. And yet, fireworks on the 4th are as American as apple pie.

I know I will hear those bombs bursting in air every July. And while the fireworks displays are beautiful, these sounds do not feel celebratory. They remind me of guns and war, not patriotism.

Fireworks go back to 9th century China, but they came to be associated with Independence Day here on July 4, 1777, which was the first time we celebrated the signing of the Declaration of Independence. In a letter to his wife, John Adams said,

“It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

I don’t recall any solemn acts of devotion to God on the 4th of July, but going back to my childhood, fireworks were always part of the celebration. When I was young, as a good girl I was restricted to sparklers. Although they burn at 1800º F, they were considered safe unless you let the handle get too hot before dropping them. But my brothers had more options. They set off Cherry Bombs in garbage cans, lit firecrackers stuffed into telephone poles, and smashed the caps from their cap guns with rocks. I guess making explosions is a male thing, and I won’t bother to offer a Freudian explanation of why.

Fancy fireworks shows didn’t happen in my neighborhood when I was growing up, but my kids had the opportunity to enjoy them (or be frightened when they were young). We live a block from Lake Michigan in Evanston, Illinois, and during our 45 years here, we have watched fireworks explode over the lake. There was a time when the display was coordinated with a radio broadcast of patriotic music, but these days if people listen to music it is through their personal earbuds. Nevertheless, it’s still a rousing sight. Glow necklaces and popsicles are sold and families spread out blankets on the beach and hope not to lose their kids when it gets dark. Children impatiently ask if each burst is what one of my granddaughters called the “finality.” Then everyone fights traffic to get home, leaving behind lots of garbage on my front lawn.

If that were the end of the fireworks, I guess I wouldn’t feel like the 4th of July Grinch. But as soon as it ends, the freelancers take over. Random loud pops emanate from the alley as kids do what my brothers did so many years ago. The racket goes on during the entire week of the 4th, and it doesn’t make me feel very patriotic. It’s just plain annoying for me, and excruciatingly painful for many people and critters. It will also inevitably lead to some serious injuries.

While some states like mine have banned the sale of fireworks to individuals, it’s no problem to go to another state like Indiana, where they are legal, to stock up. Regardless of regulations, I know I will hear those bombs bursting in air every July. And while the fireworks displays are beautiful, these sounds do not feel celebratory. They no longer feel innocent like hitting caps with rocks, which I may have done on occasion despite being a good girl. They remind me of guns and war, not patriotism.

We smashed these with rocks back in the day

This year in particular, with Trump hijacking the 4th of July fireworks in Washington to deliver a militaristic speech to donors and supporters at a multimillion-dollar, taxpayer-financed show, complete with displays of tanks and planes flying overhead, I was not feeling very excited about wandering over to the beach to celebrate the 4th. Instead, I stayed home and watched Stranger Things. It seemed like a better fit for my mood this year.

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Profile photo of Laurie Levy Laurie Levy
Boomer. Educator. Advocate. Eclectic topics: grandkids, special needs, values, aging, loss, & whatever. Author: Terribly Strange and Wonderfully Real.

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  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    Stranger and stranger! DIdn’t you know that our great Army of the Potomac held the airports? And the flag at Fort McHenry waved at the rockets red glare….oops, wrong war. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we had someone in office who actually knew something about history instead of spouting gibberish to hear himself speak? Yes, I truly wanted it to rain on his parade. Horrible things going on in Washington, DC. I still went to our local parade and cheered for the vets and the peace marchers. I applaud your sensibility.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      We have to love the true local celebrations, and I should not have let the ridiculous show in DC rain on my parade. See me reply to Tom. Like you, I’m laughing today as I see meme after meme with planes flying over various aspects of the history of the American revolution. On the other hand, is it funny to have a President who could say such a thing?

  2. Wow, Laurie. You touched a lot of bases here. I am dogless now but did rescue for years. I remember one rescue. Little Bear, who was terrified of anything then went “bang” and fireworks were the worst. And setting off caps. We used tools such as ice choppers and we sometimes threw caution to the wind and blasted an entire roll in one blow.
    And this year: I, too, stayed and will stay home this year. (The Cold Spring fireworks display is tonight but it hot and humid with thunderstorms in the forecast; we heard, endlessly, but did not see the fireworks from West Point on Thursday. And while I understand the “Trump effect” that has discouraged many this year, I respectfully disagree. This is the year we need most to celebrate to deny the misappropriation of our collective holiday. To me Independence Day in particular celebrates America, and America is not the military, a flag, or the like. It is an idea, and we need to celebrate the idea and keep it alive.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      You are totally right about not allowing Trump to brand the 4th in his image. Lately, I just don’t have the energy to take on all of his stuff, although I greatly enjoyed the many memes depicting planes flying over various figures from the American Revolution. My son-in-law, who is a naturalized American citizen, told my granddaughter, “We can love someone with all our heart, but not love what they say or do in a particular moment. I think patriotism is the same way. I can love my country but hate what it’s doing right now. Remember, patriotism is love of one’s *country* and what it can be, not love of one’s government—much less who happens to be the President for a few years.” He was right!

  3. Marian says:

    Great thread and wonderful story to stimulate it, Laurie. There is a lot here. The details brought back a memory of a few years ago in my very multicultural neighborhood. It was not the 4th of July, but at about 10 AM on the weekend we heard what we thought were gunshots from around the corner. I don’t know why, but we ran out of the house toward the sound. Turned out a Vietnamese couple had been married, and it was traditional to set off fireworks outside their house the morning after. I don’t think the police were amused, but at least no one was hurt. Live and learn.

    • Laurie Levy says:

      The noise is hard for me because I equate those sounds. Sometimes on the 4th, people actually shoot guns into the sky and, sadly, into other human beings. The popping that goes on all week from folks setting off their own fireworks always upsets me, although it can also mean something festive as in your example.

  4. Suzy says:

    Good story, Laurie. I understand your grinchiness, but I love the visual spectacle so much that I overlook the rest. And how lovely to live a block from Lake Michigan and be able to watch the fireworks explode over the lake! If I lived there, I couldn’t possibly resist watching, no matter how grumpy that idiot in the White House made me.

    The picture of the boy twirling the sparkler is amazing. Is that your picture or did you find it online?

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