Each Fourth of July, we’d make a patriotic pilgrimage…we’d load the old Red Flyer wagon with collapsible lawn chairs and the ever-present wood slat-topped table, a favorite old porch quilt for sitting or sprawling on, a cooler filled with ice and popsicles and sodas, and summertime snacks like sliced watermelon, cucumber sandwiches, thick, crunchy Zapp’s potato chips and cakelike sugar cookies slathered with creamy icing and sprinkles. Time was, when the kids were small, we’d outfit ourselves in newly acquired Old Navy patriotic tee shirts purchased just for the occasion.
Arriving downtown while it was still daylight, we’d trudge through the Gulf Power parking lot past the Wall South Vietnam memorial to a spot along Bayfront Parkway where we were sure to have a good view of the fireworks overhead. Police closed off the road in both directions. Thanks to the dry weather, personal fireworks were banned, but little flameless “poppers” still punctuated the heavy, humid air.
We’d spread the quilt on the grassy median and stake out our territory with lawn chairs. Frisbees were tossed back and forth and we settled in for several hours of the finest people watching anywhere. Occasionally we spotted familiar faces in the gathering crowd, and our numbers swelled as friends joined us.
Darkness settled, and as nine o’clock approached, radios around the park tuned in to stations broadcasting the patriotic music that accompanied the fireworks. A few tentative test rockets were launched, their bright flash and loud “boom” echoing across the calm waters. Children flinched and clutched their ears tightly. A glance across Pensacola Bay revealed the pretty sight of lights sparkling on dozens of boats gathered for the show.
The music and the first “real” fireworks launched simultaneously, and for thirty minutes we were entranced by the impressive light show high over the bay. Every one seemed larger than the last. A thin haze of gray smoke drifted on the almost-nonexistent sea breeze.
A thunderous, spectacular finale signaled the end of another successful show. Applause broke out and a chorus of horns sounded from the boats on the bay. We lingered, in no hurry to join the traffic gridlock accompanying this holiday. After about an hour, when the police informed us they were ready to reopen the road, we gathered our belongings, reloaded the wagon, and headed back toward our cars. Just before midnight we were home, tired and satisfied, another successful celebration of our nation’s birth. Ironic, wasn’t it, that a nation born through conflict and struggle and determination would celebrate with some of the same sights and sounds generations later. A reminder of our beginnings, perhaps.