Fireworks Release A Shower Of Memories

They lifted their heads as the first round of fireworks kissed the night sky.

A year ago, my two youngest daughters, 6 and 4, stood in the Hamden Plaza parking lot, along with one of their two older sisters. Though we were a mile away from where the fireworks would boom, I had anticipated an early departure. Sure enough, five minutes in, we were heading home — chased by the scary fireworks.

It's a funny thing what fireworks do to people.

Now a year braver, they sat wrapped in a blanket in the field of grass adjacent to the Hamden Public Library. The fireworks would be overhead and we were gathered there with hundreds, if not thousands, of others on blankets and lawn chairs.

Kids were running around going crazy. Teens were strolling around trying to be seen. Young couples sat cross-legged with children on their laps. Several from my generation relived their disco nights by making letters with their arms to the Village People's "YMCA." Then Pharrell Williams' "Happy" song kicked in. Then my 4-year-old asked if she could dance.

"Sure," I said.

And she stood up and did a dance that had me laughing and amazed at moves I hadn't seen before. Then she sat down and we waited.

They'd tasted kettle corn and had long ago finished their rainbow Popsicles, after we'd found a bare spot in the field to set the blankets once used for their toddler beds.

Now it was time.

We had come for the fireworks — that loud noise that splashes such beautiful colors on the canvas of the night sky. We had come for the fireworks. Everyone had come for the fireworks.

As they lit up the sky, I got to thinking about why we love fireworks so much. What is it that makes us stop and watch, wherever we are, and look on with a serenity that belies the loud booms and bangs? What makes us sit for 20 minutes or so, mesmerized? Truly mesmerized.

It's a funny thing what fireworks do to people.

Looking at the illuminated faces of those with their heads lifted to the sky, there is a shared look of awe and wonder that transcends age, race, gender, religion, education, income and all the other things that otherwise make us different during the rest of our daily lives.

It is a look that comes no matter how many fireworks we have seen.

There is a quiet peace amid the explosion of sound and color that takes us back to places and times and people we once knew.

It took me back to my childhood home in Waukegan, Ill., and plopped me in the backyard where the day brought the smoke from endless barbecue grills when charcoal was the way and gas was left for the oven inside. There's my dad barbecuing ribs and hot dogs and hamburgers on a split-barrel grill and bragging about his special sauce as my cousins from Chicago teased and played beneath the oak tree.

When night came, we never had to go farther than our front yard.

Just above the Comptons' house right across the street, we could see the fireworks exploding in the sky. Michael and Marky, who were about the same age as my older brother and me, would come over and mom would pop popcorn and we'd play in the yard and hit the ground every time we heard the "oophm" sound of another round shooting into the sky.

It's a funny thing what fireworks do to people.

It's the Fourth of July even when it's not the fourth day in July. Every generation gathers. It's tradition. It's memories — memories of people we were once with, places we once were, a time we once lived.

My two older daughters, both in their 20s, have their memories.

Now their two little sisters have the start of theirs — sitting in the grass wrapped in a blanket with their heads lifted as the fireworks kissed the night sky above a field in Hamden.

Frank Harris III of Hamden is a professor of journalism at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. His email address is Follow him on Twitter at fh3franktalk.

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