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©July 2004

Carol Jane Remsburg





America Still Thrives






The 4th of July holiday dawned overcast, muggy, and held a persistent breeze that made being out on the porch bearable.  However, it also held the promise to be thundery and rainy later on that had the potential to cancel the evening's fireworks display.  It became a watch-and-see game all day to see what would happen.


We kept the day at home quiet as we'd already been to a barbecue/party the evening before.  This would be a day of reading and rest and a little laundry.  The television was eschewed and the back porch enjoyed because of the constant breeze and the humor station on hubby's new XM radio.  As much as I should have enjoyed that time, I couldn't.  I kept watch on the sky, which took turns shifting from gray to darker gray in some spots signaling the coming of rain or a storm.  I also kept sneaking back into the house to check the radar situation.  Erin, at 13, just knew it wasn't gonna happen and seemed in a perpetual snit for most of the day.  That kid loves her fireworks, the tradition, and everything about the 4th of July.  The possibility of it not happening was a major irritant for her that she freely and repeatedly shared with all in the house—just in case we hadn't noticed.


By 4 PM, I'd brought all the clean linens inside and made up the beds so they would be nice and fresh and started on dinner.  Granted, we should have fired up the grill for some all American burgers, hotdogs, beans, and potato salad…but we'd just had them yesterday.  Also that's a great excuse for me because I'm grill-impaired.  If hubby doesn't do it, the grill doesn't come on.  And, since hubby hadn't offered, I cooked up some cube steak which this family loves and it doesn't take terribly long.  All the while, the radar kept looking greener and greener—we were surrounded with what appeared to be enough rain to fill the Three Gorges Dam in China.  Those gray clouds kept darkening, filling, and lowering.  There were no storms with these clouds but rain and lots of it.


Meanwhile, I persevered with the idea we were actually going and cleaned up after dinner.  I packed all the drinks in the cooler with ice, the wet washcloth in a baggy, the Off® spray, the blankets, the sparklers, and the big bags of peanuts-in-the-shell and grabbed the kid.  We were picking up my niece and her hubby and their son Dylan, now just over a year old.  We were going to the fireworks and kept hoping it would happen after all.


It was a 10-15 minute drive into town to pick up the kids—it sprinkled steadily the entire time.  Once we loaded up our passengers; that little bit of rain stopped.  I took it as a good omen even though the clouds had lowered even more and looked like they were about to give birth.  Hubby's last farewell to us (he doesn't do fireworks when air conditioning and the TV is entirely his) was that the weatherman on the local television station had promised that the rains would wait until after the fireworks display was over.  I thought that was a load of bull.


We drove over to where we thought we'd be viewing the fireworks only to find it full and then relented and hit the mall's parking lot.  Finding a spot took a while and even then I had to save a spot so I parked in the middle of two spaces with an empty third spot to the right.  Cory's parents showed up and took the third spot and later I moved my truck over to make room for Cory's brother and his family.  We had a great little group.


It was a definite celebration going on in the mall parking lot.  It seemed that everyone had sparklers, poppers, and the smaller forms of legitimate fireworks (those last were allowed at home but not in the parking lot and security ran rampant sharing that little notice under threat of a ticket by the Fire Marshall).  People had their coolers iced down with sodas, there were motorized vendors in converted golf carts or you could walk over to the big tent which sold sparklers, poppers, and other fireworks—AND food, hotdogs, burgers, fries, and sodas.  They also had a radio station with their speakers set up playing traditional patriotic music.  The smells of fries and smoke and the music amid that heavy, weighted air got everyone in the mood.


It was 7:50PM when we got settled in to wait, Cory's parents showed up about 20 minutes later, and another 25 minutes brought Mike and his family.  Everyone was in position and we kept hoping we had a good spot to view the fireworks.  The grousing was heard beneath all the overlay of congeniality—none of us knew if we had it right.  Sodas were drunk, bug-repellent, sprayed, animal crackers given to sooth Dylan who was already restless, and then the peanuts were broken out.  In the meantime, small banter was exchanged along with the lighting of the poppers and sparklers.


Sometime between 8:45PM and 8:55PM is the traditional start time for the annual display of fireworks, this year then ended up being delayed for about an additional ten minutes.  No one knew why, but with all the individuals around us setting off their newly purchased items in the parking lot we weren't sure if we were behind the wrong set of trees or not.  My guess is that they had to recalibrate those displays for a lower altitude because if they set them at the normal height in these clouds we'd never see them at all.


Finally, a whistler went rocketing skyward and we knew we were in the right place.  Showers of sparkling showers of color rained down.  As soon as one display faded, another soared even higher to draw the attention of all.  Sizzlers, Whistlers, Spinners, and all manner of brightly colored fire filled the skies.  Car alarms were set off by the concussions; some of the blasts with every 4th or 5th send up.  There were oohs and aahs from the crowds surrounding us and not just from the kids—they squealed with delight.


Thus for about 45 minutes the skies took our attention and we did something uniquely American—we gathered together; great masses of strangers of all types including our dogs—to celebrate our independence, our freedom, and to have the ability to do just that with joy in hearts both young and old.


During this time, some people waved flags, some people cheered, some applauded, some sang to "America the Beautiful" as it played in the background, and some of us ate peanuts and keep the "aahs" rolling.  Celebrating the 4th isn't always about a picnic, a barbecue, or a pool party—BUT attending the fireworks display IS a part of our heritage in the 20th and 21st centuries.  The only thing you must beware is after it's over and how to leave without either running out of gas or perishing from old age trying to leave.


Out of about 25,000 attendees—I heard 15 vehicles start up and start to slip away about 3 minutes before the grand finale.  They were smart and I'll guarantee you it was a grandpa who managed it promising the grandkids they'd still see the finale—just closer up than they were before—all so they could miss the MESS that comes AFTER the fireworks are over.


Last year, we held a prime spot which also had an exit avenue that had us delivering our passengers home in less than five minutes.  This year we weren't so lucky.  This year we parked within the massive crowd simply boiling with fellow Americans all who wished to leave at the same moment.  Yet, I was able to get in line fairly quickly and thought it wouldn't take too long—I just didn't realize that going WITH the traffic would be my undoing.


We'd all been very happy with the evening so far, the prerequisite – "We're in the wrong place, We won't see anything," along with the perennial "It's not EVER going to start!" was survived and we'd all been pleased with the outcome.  Now came the bad time of the evening, one I hadn't really planned for I'd never encountered it before.  I got stuck in traffic and badly.


I took a right instead of attempting to cross traffic with a left.  Taking that left would have meant risking my life (and the lives of my passengers); not to mention at the very least giving up the front bumper on my truck as a sacrificial offering just to get OUT.  Suddenly we were in the Land of Limbo.  We were in the lane to nowhere and it wasn't moving—not even an inch at a time.  Initially we slowly moved about 100 yards and then came to a dead STOP—for 52 minutes.  (Okay, I would liken that to feeling that dead stop felt like 152 minutes, but Erin kept the time for me).  There were about 80-85 vehicles all stuck in the same gridlock.


A couple of the 4-wheel drives opted out and drove over the curbing, across the field to the outer service road, down that curbing, and escaped.  I kept being tempted on certain openings to make that "U" turn and head back the other way—where traffic was moving steadily.  Yet, knowing how the old adage goes, you leave the line not moving and get into another and THAT one will stop.  I've lived it often enough before NOT to have been swayed on my first two opportunities to turn the big truck around and head the other way.


After those first two times, all in the truck agreed with me.  By the 3rd opportunity, I heard grumblings from the back and was already severely second guessing myself—and after that opening closed up, I was already kicking myself and mad at the world.  It doesn't take this long for a 20,000 BAD drivers to depart an area.


Finally, when the 4th opportunity, a gap appeared between cars in the opposing lane, I whipped my truck across it—blocking traffic both ways.  I was risking a collision but I couldn't turn the entire way—I performed a quick 3-point turn without one horn being blared.  Many of the rest of our lane were succumbing to that choice. 


Once turned the other-way 'round, we were out of the mall's grip and out in the real road in less than two minutes.  It had been a grueling wait, the baby was tired and feeding off all the now maddening energy from the frustrated adults and one very mouthy teenager in the vehicle.  It was late and we were all tired and wanted simply to go home with our good memories intact.


Actually, after we finally got out on the road—all the tensions eased.


Going to the annual fireworks display is totally American.  It doesn't cost anything but your preparation, your time, your patience—and a smidgen of your gumption.  You have to hope the weather will cooperate, that your fellow spectators are amiable, and that you don't lose your sanity or your cool when you try to get home.


In 1776, some 228 years ago we, America, declared our Independence to the world at large and took control of ourselves and our lives.  This is something we've fought for in the past and have continued to fight for, not only for ourselves, but for others.  It's a proud heritage we have rightfully earned and should hold close to our hearts most especially ON this day, the 4th of July.  Plus, it's a reminder to love our fellows among us—right up until you cut me off and I've been waiting nearly an hour and run a ¼ tank of gas going nowhere with a crying baby in the back and everyone of my passengers grousing---THEN we've either gotta talk, you've either gotta give way, OR I'm taking YOUR front bumper when I go….


That's when the "I'm bigger than you are" comes into play.  And guess what?  I'm tired, I'm old, my ears hurt, I've been waiting longer than YOU have and I drive something bigger than YOU do.  I'm OUTTA here!


Hope your 4th was as nice as mine.  Somehow we all got home without any vehicle mishaps or any gestures, verbal or physical actually exchanged.  It think it went well. 


Oh, and it never DID rain.  Go figure…



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