Nothing says Fourth of July like fireworks in Philadelphia
Ah, to lie on your back in the grass on the Fourth of July, the black summer sky bursting with glittery pinks and greens and golds — definitely a Life Is Good moment. My favorite fireworks are the ones that burst, followed by wacky little sizzlers that skitter around. I also love the duds that just flash and go BOOM!!! right into your bones.
Thankfully, fireworks haven’t changed much over the years… they hiss into the sky, pause for a breath, and then scatter rainbow sparkles from the heavens. Pure joy. The “oohs” and “ahhs” haven’t changed much either.
Even the “safe and sane” fireworks (which are actually neither) are basically the same good old fireworks of my youth, save for outrageous prices. You might as well light $10 bills on fire and throw them into the air. It’s truly nutty to incinerate the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries, then sweep it up and throw it away. Logically, I know this. But… they’re so much fun! And nothing makes you feel 8 years old again like the screech of a Piccolo Pete or the smoky, sulfury smell of those snakey things.
One thing that has changed over the years, however, is sparklers. These sad, tired little fizzle sticks they call “sparklers” nowadays are nothing like the red, gold and green Red Devil classics of the ‘60s.
One of my fondest Fourth of July memories is lighting up a gold sparkler (the strongest, of course!) and holding it close enough to my empty palm for the little fiery arrows to bounce off with little stings. When it finally petered out, I loved writing my name in glowing orange trails in the air with the hot spent wire. Which is probably the reason real sparklers disappeared – the hot wire. Some dufus kid had to go pick it up and burn his pudgy hand, and then mommy and daddy threatened to sue, and there you go. No more sparklers.
Back in the day, kids who picked up red-hot spent sparklers only did it once. It’s called “learning.” Squirt some Bactine on it and get over it. Kids were just tougher then, probably from taking one too many headers off our Sting-Rays without helmets and knee pads, and no parents hovering over us every moment except to pick the asphalt out of the skinned knee, slap on a band-aid and point us back outside.
Kids today. Much mushier, these American Children 2.0.
So. Fireworks. I admit it. I’m a freak for fireworks. One of my lifelong dreams was to spend the Fourth of July in America’s most patriotic city – Philadelphia — and The Cutest Man In The World (now, AKA my husbie) made that happen several years ago, flying both my daughter and me there to spend Independence Day on the very ground where Washington, Franklin and Jefferson once walked.
What a day. We toured the Betsy Ross House and bought a handmade 13-Star American flag, and visited Ben Franklin’s printing shop where they still print souvenir Declarations of Independence on the old presses. We dined at the Moshulu, an historic tall ship permanently docked at Penn’s Landing and converted to a restaurant, and as the blue sky faded to black over the Delaware River, it was time to head downtown for the fireworks. At last!
Yes, we’d planned every detail. Except researching the difficulty of getting a cab in Philadelphia on the Fourth of July just before the fireworks start. Big mistake. Not even the Moshulu maitre d’ could find us a cab in less than an hour — about 30 minutes too late.
It was hopeless. We walked back to the hotel, and our respective daughters were tired and bored, and went to the room to crash. TCMITW and I ended up in the hotel bar, along with a few locals watching a ballgame on TV. On the Fourth of July!
This simply would not do. It was Philadelphia, and I was gonna see those damn fireworks, even if it was on TV. So, I whined and whimpered about patriotism and tradition until they changed the channel just to shut me up.
We all stared up silently at the glittering downtown display on the screen, patriotic music blaring, close-ups of children’s faces glowing in wonder, and one of the gruffies at finally mumbled, “It is kinda cool.” Said another, “Lived here all my life, never watched it before.”
That was a personal victory — introducing Philadelphians to patriotism. But, oh, the bitter irony. Finally in Philadelphia on the Fourth, watching the fireworks on TV. To double down the irony, back home in Winters, there would’ve been a full, flashy fireworks display just blocks from my house.
But, before you dab tears over my Philadelphia fireworks fiasco, rest assured, there is a consolation. A couple years later, one random summer night, TCMITW and I were in Philadelphia because I was catching an early flight out the next morning. We were walking along Benjamin Franklin Parkway when suddenly fireworks started bursting over the Philadelphia Art Museum, for no apparent reason. It was a weeknight, and the Parkway was relatively empty — just me and him, arm in arm, watching our own personal fireworks display. It was magical.
I finally got my Philadelphia fireworks. It didn’t happen the way I’d imagined, but it was definitely a Life Is Good moment, nonetheless.