I love fireworks -- 07/05/00

I love fireworks! I have been a fireworks fan since early childhood.

I may not be able to remember where I put my keys but I have very vivid memories of events from early childhood. I can recall things that happened when I was only two or three years old. Moreover, I had a sense of self, I can remember being the "me" that these things happened to, I was aware of being me and experiencing these events. (Ah, well, that can be a topic for another time -- earliest memories -- today my concern is fireworks.)

My first fireworks display was a 4th of July display in 1946. July 4th fell on a Thursday that year. (No, I don't remember the day of the week, silly; I looked up a 1946 calendar in Lotus Organizer.) My mother would have been quite pregnant with my brother but I don't remember that, either. I just remember my parents taking me to a baseball game at Dietz Memorial Stadium in Kingston, NY. (Of course, that soon after the end of the war it may just have been called Municipal Stadium or Kingston Stadium or some such.) The game meant nothing to me -- just a bunch of men dressed funny standing around on this lawn, throwing a ball around and sometimes some of them would run around -- it must not have meant much to enough other people, either, because within a very few years the team, a minor league Yankee farm team (if I recall my father's stories correctly) would be gone. This night was memorable to me for two things: my first fireworks and my first urinal. Well, you see, at that young age I had not had too much more than a year or so of experience with the proper use of bathrooms in the first place. We did not own an automobile; our excursions out of our neighborhood were by public bus. I suppose I had used the facilities in, perhaps, a ladies restroom at the local Montgomery Ward department store (Monkey Ward's as we called it when I was a kid), but I apparently had never been in a men's room or, if I had been, then probably had only made use of a generic toilet. My father took me to the men's room at the stadium. It had one of those old-fashioned trough style urinals running the length of a wall. I was somewhat startled by it but after a moment's instruction I was able to make appropriate use of it, although it still seemed very strange.

As for the fireworks... ah, they were marvelous... [My father also gave me instructions in how to watch fireworks: keep your mouth open so the loud bangs don't hurt your ears. Thinking back on it now I wonder, was this some folk saying passed down from his own childhood or was it some bit of advice passed out to the troops during the war?] I don't know if my parents had been concerned that the fireworks might frighten me or not? I was filled with excited anticipation, this event must have been discussed repeatedly over the preceeding few days. And then the show began. A ground display, whirling pinwheels, Roman candles sending colorful sparks skyward. Aerial display. Rockets flying up into the night. BAM! Sparkling colors in the sky. A boy near us was in tears. He was a big kid, maybe five or even six. I was briefly puzzled. Why in the world would a big kid be crying? But I quickly ignored his frightened wailing and turned my attention back to the display of pyrotechnic magic. This was the most marvelous thing I had ever seen.

And ever since I have been entranced by fireworks.

We lived in a heavily Italian neighborhood. The big event of the year (coming at the end of summer, the school year summer, not the calendar summer) was the Feast of St. Mary... which included a parade of a statue of the Virgin through the streets of our neighborhood, accompanied by a band, all the boys and girls of First Communion age dressed all in white and a cluster of little old Italian grandmothers, white-haired, dressed in black, often shorter than the marching children. My friends' fathers would bid money for the right to carry a corner of the platform bearing the statue. Others would march along only to dash up onto porches to accept a donation while others would assist those onlookers seeking to pin money to the clothing of the statue. The feast -- I mean the Feast -- ah, someday I should devote an entire entry to describing it. Suffice it to say that Saturday night meant a fireworks display. When I was little my father would put me up on his shoulders and off we would go to watch the fireworks. Later, when my brother was old enough to come along, the whole family would walk down together. And still later, once I was nine or ten, I would be allowed to go off with my friends on our own. One of my brother's classmates lost three fingers when he found an unexploded shell; he was running with it in his hand, running past a trash fire, apparently a fine trail of explosive powder trailing behind him... it exploded in his hand.

July 4, 1961 - I had graduated from high school just a couple weeks before. I had a summer job working at a small resort hotel in the Catskills -- no, not in the area people often call The Jewish Alps (although later in life I would live and work in that area) -- this was in the northern Catskills, near the village of Catskill, an area often called The Irish Alps because of the high concentration of Irish-Americans who vacationed in that area. This was a seminal summer for me; here I was, fresh out of high school, living away from home almost three months before college would start. We went to a 4th of July fireworks display near Windhom Mountain... sitting on a green lawn in the mountains, so different from the crowded ethnic carnival atmosphere of the Feast of St. Mary.

One of my favorite fireworks displays came with the Appalachin Fireman's Field Days -- a few miles outside of Binghamton, NY). I first discovered this when Adam, my eldest, was just a little kid, but continued to visit it with Jennifer and Sean as they grew. It provided carnival rides, special games for kids, and lots of food -- my favorite being the grilled sausage and pepper sandwiches but they also had hotdogs and hamburgers and fried chicken plus home-baked pies of every description: blueberry and strawberry and apple and.... And, above all, a great fireworks display.

July 4, 1976. The Bicentennial Year. Happy 200th Birthday U.S.A. I watched with friends at Broome County park, one with a lake... the fireworks were launched from the opposite shore of the lake... the water of the lake providing a mirror image of the display in the sky (until the smoke from the rockets spread over the surface of the lake like a low lying fog).

Another marvelous series of fireworks displays in Binghamton was the annual Pops on the River concert. The first one came when Jennifer was an infant, just a few weeks old... The Broome County Pops Orchestra would play from a large raft-like platform on the Chenango River, built out from the shore behind the Holiday Inn, just downstream from the Court St. bridge. Each year there would be a special theme and some kind of surprise. One year featured the William Tell Overture and Lone Ranger character. One year they played the theme from Jaws while scuba divers swam underwater manipulating shark fins. When they played the theme from Star Wars a model of the Enterprise flew across the river on a cable. The fireworks were fired off at the conclusion of the concert, often beginning while the orchestra played the 1812 Overture, launched further downstream at the confluence of the Chenango and Susquehanna Rivers. The first year we watched from the embankment behind the Roberson Center for the Arts and Sciences... where we could see the orchestra upstream as well as the fireworks downstream. Other years we would wander about, watching parts of the concert from the Court St. bridge but then moving downstream to watch the fireworks. In later years, desiring to avoid riverbank mosquitoes and the problems of keeping small children occupied during a concert, we took to skipping the concert and just walking down Riverside Drive to the memorial bridge to watch the fireworks (the bridge closed to traffice, filled with spectators).

South Kingstown, Rhode Island, hosts an annual Independence Day fireworks display at Old Mountain Field (a public park) in the village of Wakefield. We had even gone to see this display before we moved to Rhode Island (Nancy's parents having moved to Rhode Island several years before we did) and I have attended it every year since we moved here. It is provided free by the town (partly supported by donations, including a free will suggested one dollar per person collection at the park)... It is a wonderful display... and every year people say "Wow! That was the best one ever!" Last year Nancy and I walked there and back (a bit past three miles each way) but this year we rode our bikes, using the bike path to avoid some of the heavy traffic leaving the event. It was a lovely display, filled with bright sparkling colors and all the loud bangs anyone could want. Wow! That was the best one ever!

Oops, almost forgot to mention that my weight is now 202; I've lost four pounds so far...

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