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July 4th, 2013

LOUD NOISES

Fireworks are fantastic. In the right hands. Meaning "not mine."

As the Fourth of July makes many of us think about fireworks, I got thinking about them. I already thought of them last Sunday, when we lit sparklers at the end of Honor and Jean's wedding, and I realized I probably hadn't held a lit sparkler since the 1980s. First half of the Eighties, to be exact. Virginia Beach, to be even more exact. At a Fourth of July celebration on a shore, in 1984, on one of the inlets that break up Virginia Beach. Woods -- not moss-covered, because not all of the South is moss-covered -- abutting the house we were visiting, quiet on the water, sparklers in our hands and other small fireworks in the yard. It was low-key, but in a dramatic location. A quietly dramatic location.

I think I didn't get that close to fireworks again until last week, and I don't mind.

Because the next Fourth of July, 1985, I got to see the biggest fireworks display of my life. Later in 1984, we'd moved from Virginia Beach to Northern Virginia, and come the next summer the whole fam-damily went to the National Mall. As did what seemed like one-tenth of the whole population of Northern Virginia. The Ballston Metro station (the farthest the Metro extended into Virginia at the time) and the train were CROWDED. We slowly (slowly, slowly) made it to a train, then more quickly (at train-speed, y'know) into D.C. We got there early enough to get a picnic spot on the hill where the Washington Monunment is set. I've probably blocked out the smell of sunblock, but plenty of it was applied. I'd been getting into planes and airports around that age, so I was well aware of planes coming in from the west as they curved south towards Washington National Airport a few miles away. We were a distance from the stage -- featuring that year the return of the Beach Boys to the National Mall the year after they hadn't been allowed to play -- but it was decently visible, and the music was decently audible. (Also on the bill that day? Katrina and the Waves. They're the only other musical act of that day that I can remember.) But we were also decently close to where the fireworks, later, were to be set off.

And when they were set off, it was like the entire sky was exploding. In a safe way. I remember being able to look in almost any direction and see the fireworks. That's probably not true, but that's now how it feels. (Obviously they weren't going off in the path of the airplanes headed towards National! (But mightn't that be AWESOME??!))

There. That was, indeed, How It Should Be Done. I was impressed. As I was the other two times I saw the D.C. fireworks, one time from the Pentagon parking lot across the Potomac River, the last time in 1994 from Capitol Hill -- just as crowded as the Washington Monument's hill had been nine years earlier. Those still are among the largest crowds I've ever been in. Cheering, screaming crowds. Cheering as we - well, again, the professionals -- set the sky to light.

Now that I'm older, the fireworks available for me as a non-professional firework-setter-offer in Oregon are either small or illegal, and I've no interest in either type. No time this year to go to an actual display, because today I'm working, but there's a good chance I'll see displays on my walk home from work, in the 9 o'clock hour tonight. I hope I'll be able to see some fireworks from the pedestrian bridge I cross to go home. Again, set off by those Not Me.