The first Fourth of July I can remember I must’ve been around eight or so. I remember that we went to a demonstration in the East Bay up near San Ramon, that we had dinner with my grandparents and I think they came with us. My memory gets a little fuzzy if we parked the station wagon with the back facing up the hill, the rear door open and the kids laying inside looking up at the display, or if we were out on the hilltop, sitting in my father’s old, yellow folding chairs. But I do remember that it was probably the latest I’d been allowed to stay up at that point in my life and I sleepily, but still with amazement, watched the explosions in the sky.
Many years later in Santa Cruz, Mick, Daniel, and I were standing in our kitchen when the first explosion rang out, rattling the windows in their panes. With mad grins Daniel and I left the house and walked down Pearl toward the river’s embankment. The fireworks were so low above the Boardwalk that the small ones were setting off car alarms all over the Beach Flats, the big ones were like getting punched in the chest. We sat above the “river” and enjoyed a full sensory experience, the sound of the explosions, feeling the force of them, seeing the flashes, smelling the powder. It was amazing and no other display has really felt that visceral.
Then there was tonight. The plan had been to spend the day with Gary and his daughter, swimming in their complex’s pool, then head to downtown San Jose to watch the show. The plan went smoothly until dinner when her jet lag, and having been up at 3am dealing with a nightmare of Connor’s, caught up to Michelle and she was pretty much done. She tried to explain to Connor that we were going to go home and he started to cry. He’d had his heart set on seeing the fireworks.
“Could we drop you off?” Connor asked. Michelle looked at me.
“Up to you, you ok with that?” I asked her and she nodded, so we did.
Downtown San Jose was a zoo. Streets blocked off. People driving with the courtesy that you’d expect the Hatfields might give the McCoys, but eventually I decided we’d gotten as close to where Gary and his daughter were set up as we were going to get, found a public parking lot, paid the stupid fee, and went walking.
It took a while. We waited on the grassy median of a blocked off section of road, surrounded by other people waiting for the show as well. All around us we could hear other fireworks, see them go off through the trees or far distant at other places. I could feel Connor starting to get disappointed.
Then it started. Pretty much right above us.
The next twenty-five minutes I spent laying on my back on our blanket, Connor laying on his back on my chest, my arms around his middle, as we watched the show. These were some good fireworks this year, many different kinds including some that shot geometric patterns and some hearts, a few big ones whose explosions I could feel in my teeth. Finally the finale went up, a barrage of red, white, and blue, and then it was over. We stood up, folded our blanket quickly, said our goodbyes to Gary and his daughter. I picked him up and with that we dove into the crowd to hike back to our car.
“Was that good, buddy?”
“Yeah, Daddy, it was.”
“Are you happy that we came?”
“I’m really happy that we saw the fireworks, but I’m sad mommy was too tired.”
“Yeah, but she wanted to be here, she just needed sleep.”
“I know.” He paused as we wove through the crowd and then gave me a kiss on the cheek.
“What was the kiss for, Connor?”
“Because I love you, Daddy.”
If there’s one thing I want my son to never doubt, it’s that I love him, and hopefully tonight was the first of many Fourth of July memories for him.