On July Fourth at Snyder’s Lake, we would sit in our folding chairs in front of the trailer to watch the big kids and their dads shoot off illegal Roman candles, sparkling fountains and whatever other supernova pyrotechnics they acquired on the black market. Or from Uncle Murray in Myrtle Beach. I’d look at the faces of my brothers and sister as they canted skyward and glowed with the white, red, yellow, blue of whatever ball of Ooh-and-Ahh had just burst above us. Maybe two seconds later, the concussion of the birth and death of that fireball would reach us and we’d blink, a shadow blink of the one from the initial blinding spray of stars. We all had our sparklers going, writing our names in the dark air with the twinkling wire torches of magnesium powder and other chemicals no one cared to know. We just wanted to hold onto the fire, if only for a minute, to be young American demigods who stole the illicit joy the authorities forbade us. Afterwards, if you stepped barefoot on one of the sizzling leftover wires tossed in the grass, well, that was the price you paid for playing Prometheus.
It’s Independence Day, and I almost always think back on this historic date, rather than a lot of the present and almost all the future. On July 4th I muse over our Declaration of Independence from Britain, the ends of the Battle of Gettysburg and Siege of Vicksburg, and how Jefferson and Adams pull the flashiest magic act finales in American history, each checking out of this mortal world on the anniversary of the very day they launched this great nation. It’s also the day we boys would fire off firecrackers and cherry bombs all day and watch the illegal personal firework shows of our neighbors at night on Snyder’s Lake over in Rensselaer County. Happy Independence Day, friends.