No, I’m not going to give you the entire history of fireworks (wasn’t China involved, a long time ago? Or was that gunpowder?) Since the Fourth is upon us, I’ve been thinking about my memories of fireworks. Then I had to consult with my daughter, who’s visiting, about what she remembers.

I’m told there are people (children and adults) who are frightened of the loud noises. Not me. I love it when I can feel the blast with my body. Are kids required to wear ear protection these days? (My hearing is intact, thank you.)

Fireworks display

Here are the highlights I remember:

—      When I was in elementary school, I had a friend who lived nearby and whose parents threw a Fourth of July Party each year. With fireworks. Modest ones, of course, but they made a big boom. If I recall correctly, nobody ever got hurt and nothing caught on fire, and we attended the party for years.

—      When I was in high school, my town held a fireworks display on the way out of town, in a field past the high school. There was never enough room to park in that neighborhood, so you ended up walking the last half-mile or so, laden with blankets or beach towels (and probably insect repellent). Quite a few people from the town showed up and reclined on the grass enjoying the show.

—      When I was doing research in France (after college, before I was married) I happened to be there for Bastille Day. I was staying in the city of Angers, where there is a river, and the town shot off the fireworks over the river. What surprised me most was the fact that the fireworks made noises (not just bangs)—mostly whistling sounds (if you want to know how this works, see this ). I’ve always wondered why we don’t do more of that in the U.S., but I suppose we go for size rather than subtlety.

—      When I lived in Cambridge (MA) for a few years I shared a ground floor apartment with two other people. One year we decided to go up to the roof of the building (I think it was five or six stories high) to watch the fireworks. We had an amazing view of the Charles River—and saw the fireworks set off by three different towns along the river, all at the same time! It was amazing (I wish I had taken pictures).

—      Now the town where I live sets off its fireworks in a small park directly behind the fire station (smart choice!). I haven’t actually attended one of these events, but I can certainly hear it and often see the lights from the second floor our our house, since it’s happening only a few blocks away.

—      My daughter was fireworks-deprived for much of her early life, something I felt badly about. But the gods were kind. One summer we were on our way back from a family trip in Indiana, I think, and we stopped for the night at a hotel somewhere along the way back to (then) Pennsylvania—I’m not even sure where. After dinner we were hanging out in our room and, lo and behold, a fireworks display started and we had the perfect view from our window. It wasn’t even the Fourth! Check one more item off our bucket list: show daughter fireworks!

One more small note: my father always kept a small leather box on his dresser, filled with those little one-inch fireworks—individual ones, not strings of them. (My sister and I were never allowed to mess with them.) He took pleasure in taking a frozen orange juice container, sticking one of those firecrackers under it, lighting it, and sending the can soaring. He even taught me how to do it (yes, I still have all my fingers). Luckily we had a very large rock to use as a blast-off point, and plenty of room in the yard. No mishaps.

Firecracker small

What about you? Did the loud noises scare you? Or did you revel in the excitement, the lights and colors? What do you remember best?



26 Thoughts

  1. We had backyard fireworks when I was a child, but there was always the cautionary tale about my grandfather’s friend who had his hand blown off, and my father lit them (yes, on a big rock) with something called a punk – a long stick that smoldered at the end, as I recall. Now I walk up the road a mile with a blanket and the rest of town to watch the town fireworks from a hillside. My cats aren’t bothered by them, but I know some dogs and horses really suffer from the noise, as do their owners.

  2. I didn’t like loud noises as a kid and wasn’t a huge fan of fireworks. I was especially afraid of firecrackers — boys in my town seemed to love to throw them at people. I don’t mind the noise now. When we lived in Monterey, California, we went to a Japanese festival and stood next to where they were shooting them off. It was amazing.

  3. You probably would not love it if you were a Viet Nam vet. And you would not love it if you were a bird, a squirrel, etc. etc. Fireworks (lots of bomb types) here in dumb dumb land (Indiana) begin in June. I dread the summer.

    1. I know many vets have issues with fireworks, which is understandable, Marie. Around here people set off fireworks all summer, too (they are legal to sell in New Hampshire – which is a mile from my house).

    2. Thanks for reminding us of the experiences of others. Veterans have sacrificed so many things and sometimes it is the everyday ones like fireworks that bring that realization home the most poignantly.

  4. Thank you for these memories. I love fireworks. I’ve even been to the big 4th of July event in NY but the crowds are too much. Now I watch on tv and look for outdoor summer concerts that end with fireworks. Our first granddaughter was born on July 14 and is about to turn 5. We have told her about the big party in a place called Paris and someday we will take her to see the fireworks on her birthday. She’s ready!

  5. My earliest memory was as a very little girl in Salem watching from my bedroom window as the kids across the street set off their considerable display of Roman candles, cherry bombs and sparklers. Best display ever was when the U,S,S, Salem was commissioned and I was at the celebratory bonfire and fireworks display on Gallows Hill. Awesome! Still love fireworks. Tampa Bay does the 4th proud with many displays. My black lab does not like them at all.

  6. Love fireworks. We used to trek on the Red Line to Central Square in Cambridge with four kids, blankets, picnic baskets, balls and bats etc. and then walk a number of long blocks to the grassy area in front of MIT on the Charles. It was all lovely. Family-friendly crowd and great view. And then later, of course, we walked back to the red line station with four overtired kids, dirty blankets et al and then to home (eventually). All a nice memory, but makes me tired to think about it now!

  7. I love this post, Sheila and I love fireworks! In Old Orchard they have them every Thursday night during high season. If it doesn’t rain I walk down every week.

  8. When I was very young there were fireworks twice a week here in the city. I forget which nights, but one night was Rockoway Beach in Queens (paternal grands had a home on the beach) and the other night in Coney Island. They both also did big deals on the Fourth. Nowadays the only fireworks in Coney Island are rinky dink ones from Cyclone Stadium on the Coney Island boardwalk. You have to either go into the city for Macy’s big to do, or watch The Capital Fourth on PBS.

    So with all that, may I say with my tongue planted firmly in my cheek. May the Fouth Be With You!

  9. I’ve been privileged to see many spectacular firework displays. Most memorable have been the ones at the US Military Academy. Saw my first one there at age 11.

  10. My grandparents used to let us have sparklers in their backyard while he set off bottle rockets. I’m not that big a fan of home fireworks these days. Pittsburgh has a gigantic display on the Fourth at the Point and it is fabulous. We haven’t gone in a number of years because none of us are big on crowds these days. But we can usually see at least two sets of fireworks from our yard on the night of the Fourth. Not as big, but we don’t have to go anywhere.

  11. When I was little we went to Cape Cod every summer. My grandparents lived in Weymouth and we would spend every 4th With them. We would go to Hingham and Cohasset and watch the parade in each town and have lunch at my aunts in between. We would then all head back to my grandparents house have supper and wait until dark for my dad and uncle to put on a fireworks show- even though it was illegal at the time. Each year my dad and uncle would sneak behind my poor grandmother as she sat in her chaise and light of little firecrackers in a trash can. She freaked out every time and we kids would think it was hilarious. Also sparklers were huge with us too. Great memories!

    1. I’ve also seen the fireworks in Washington D.C. on the mall, over the Potomac River in Harpers Ferry, over the Bay in Portland Maine as well as when we lived overseas in Damascus,Syria and Tehran, Iran- all spectacular shows!!

  12. I enjoy fireworks, but not the sound. There is someone in my neighborhood who insists on setting them off every night lately. It takes me several minutes to calm Jax, my pup, down after the first one, then I hold him until they stop, so he doesn’t go back into his frenzy. While I enjoy professional fireworks, I personally won’t go near anything you can buy on the street. I burned my hand when one exploded in it when I was younger. Luckily just a second degree burn but it could have been worse. Lesson learned. I stay away now, and leave it to the professionals. I was in a plane once and could see fireworks being shot up. That was pretty fun. Couldn’t hear them, but were able to see them.

  13. If I had my druthers, all fireworks would nearly silent, only set off by professionals, only for very special occasions, and (because this is a druthers list) over water for the reflection. Without druthers, I am a fireworks grouch…no thank you!
    Thank you, Shelia, for your fireworks memories.
    Happy Fourth Everyone!

  14. I enjoy fireworks, but not enough to brave the crowds and horrible traffic to watch my city’s fireworks display. I’d have to be there by mid-afternoon, and it would take the better part of an hour to get home after it was over. I miss seeing them on the 4th, but not enough to deal with all of that.

  15. I love seeing the fireworks over the Galveston Bay, in my area..but I nor some of my grandkids, nor pets like the noise. We gather at my Aunt’s house on the bay to enjoy. If I had to go anywhere else, well I wouldn’t.

  16. I love watching fireworks from afar. However, my three furbabies are terrified of loud sounds of any kind so it’s actually nice there is a fireworks ban down here in San Angelo, TX! (Although we do know there will be idiots out there doing them anyway – hope they don’t catch anything on fire as it is way too dry down here!)

  17. Sheila–Lovely review of Murder at the Mansion in this month’s Book News!

  18. I love the fireworks towns set off. So pretty. It’s been a while since I’ve actually gone to watch them tho.

  19. I love fireworks! Every time they’re delightful and different which is good because…
    The Vancouver International Fireworks festival may have spoiled me for life. 😉 Three nights of epic fireworks, set to music, during the glorious Vancouver summer!
    One year, flying to or from Vancouver, I watched a ton of fireworks from the plane. Another year I watched them from the highway as I drove down 89/93 in New Hampshire.
    Tonight we’re headed to Bug Light, and our town does another display in August for the summer festival.

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