independence day

I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle in a long brick ranch style home built, I think, in the fifties. It rested on a lush hillside and boasted a spectacular view of Seattle and the Olympic mountains, that is, if you climbed a tree, which I found myself doing often.

On Independence Day, when I was Calvin’s age—about seven or so—after a full afternoon spent at our local swimming pool eating hot dogs and candy and turning to prunes from hours in the water, we returned home. Just after dusk I joined my parents and five siblings in the back yard to light sparklers, cherry bombs, snakes, bottle rockets and Roman candles. Clouds of smoke illuminated with the glow of sparks sprinkling and spraying from red, cream and blue paper cylinders, the acidic vapor stinging our nostrils. We laughed and danced around crazy, fizzing ground-spinners skittering across the smooth green cement patio shooting sparks at our feet. We spooned in mouthfuls of soft eggy homemade vanilla ice cream, melting in bowls stained with ribbons of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries.

When the night sky was finally dark, nearing ten o’clock, my father leaned a tall ladder against the garage end of our house. One by one we stepped up the rungs and planted ourselves carefully on the brittle shingle rooftop. From there we could see a gleaming Seattle skyline, pinpoints of light flickering at the horizon, a hovering strip of sky warm and radiant. Faint coolness began hugging our shoulders so we wrapped up in thick wool blankets anxiously awaiting the show.

Finally, the black sky erupted with ascending comets and bright dazzling chrysanthemums of brilliant crimson, violet and white. Thunderous booms punctuated the starbursts that adorned the night in glitter. I smiled at the satisfying toot and blow of horns from seafaring spectators, which skipped across the lakes and up the hill filling my ears. Perched in my father’s warm lap I slipped one hand into his and the other into my mother’s. It was a perfect moment and I wished it could last forever.

These days Michael and I stay home on Independence Day. Our last venture out together to see fireworks was eight years ago, the summer before Calvin was born. Maybe one day Calvin will hold a sparkler, gazing in wonder at its fizzy glitter. Perhaps one day we will view a spectacular pyrotechnic show together, as a family, but likely not from the rooftop of our home.

Independence Day July 2003, photo by Michael Kolster

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