Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Caution: Shoots flaming balls

I missed a ton of holidays while in Indonesia. The big ones, like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter, I muddled through the best I could with late-night skype chats with my family and make-shift holiday festivities with other family-less expats. The minor holidays, like St. Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day, often slipped by completely unnoticed. But nothing could have kept me from coming home for the 4th of July, our Nation's Independence Day. It is a holiday my family embraces with both burn-scarred arms every year. It is the one time during the year we can handle explosives and light each other on fire in the name of patriotism.

Our holiday celebration used to be normal. Hamburgers, hotdogs, snaps, and sparklers. Oh, and those little black snakes that smelled really badly and left a nice mark on the pavement as the magically grew. What ever happened to those, anyways? Anyways, somewhere along the line, the battles began. In camo and safety glasses, we lit up the woods and each other until we exhausted our supply bottle rockets and roman candles. Cousin Kristen and I prided ourselves on being the only girls in the battle, and thus would head each team, challenging each other in duel-style with a slap of wick to the face.
I was captain, but my brother Jamie would take true charge of things, doling out rations of ammo to the team and devising strategies; smoke first to confuse the enemy, then charge with roman candles, finally the rockets. His eyes lit up like Christmas with every battle roll and low crawl - his maniacal laughter filling the smoke-filled air like sweet music to my ears. We'd emerge from the woods sweaty, trying to one-up each other with our stories of near misses or showing off fresh burn marks. The women would cluck prophetical warnings of lost eyes, and Nana would fret from the screened-in-porch-become-basement.

At o-dark-thirty, lawn chairs would come out as family and neighbors gathered to watch the big show. Our first show was amateurish and ill-fated. At first shot, one of the bricks tipped over and spun wildly with every subsequent shot, sending bursts into the all-too-close crowd. Flashes outlined silhouettes of baby carriages and spectators flying poetically through the air. I can still see it when I close my eyes.

We learned to nail down our cakes and our show got better and better each year, though minor concussions and temporary hearing loss would continue to add 'spice' to the show. 
Dad and Ty-bug took charge, striking deals at our favorite fireworks supplier to get the big stuff from the back room for half the price. Elaborate pre-shows were tacked on featuring costumes and props like giant, paper-machete boulders flying from the roof and projected images of a parachuting American flag falling to the graceful melodies of AC DC.

After Nana and Papa moved south permanently, we lost our wooded battle ground and show space. For two years, we lived through the 4th of July just like every other Tom, Dick, or Joe. Waiting in long traffic lines and sitting on crowded fields to be trampled on my whining children. Knowing that I was going to be home for the 4th this year, I challenged Dad to find a new spot and bring back to life our little family tradition. One week after coming home, I was once again dressed and ready for battle, this time with my own posse.

The Aftermath
I know, I know...I could have shot my eye out.
Like beautiful gobstoppers; so many colors!
This year was memorable for many reasons, and not just the sweet battle scars I got to show off for weeks later. We had a rockin' 14 minute show with parallel high-stepping sweepers and (almost) simultaneous alien resurrections. No one beyond our small group of lighters will ever quite understand why we live for striking those flares, watching the show from beneath as flaming cardboard pieces drop on our faces, and hoping the ringing in our ears will stop long enough to hear the applause from our adoring fans. But we know; yeah, we know.