Fourth of July in Ocean City, Washington

I know you remember it: back in the day when you could run around the neighborhood for hours, checking in every once in awhile only because you were hungry. Drinking water out of the garden hose, the grown-ups sunbathing on the lawn, running through the sprinkler, and later running into the street with change pilfered from your piggy bank when the ice cream truck could be heard within a mile from your house. Summer. Smells like freshly cut grass, water evaporating from cement, and suntan lotion would fill your senses. Trips to the local fair meant special treats that weren’t everyday fares like hot dogs, soda and cotton candy. The best day of all was the Fourth of July. Back when people shot off firecrackers in their driveways, and moms worried that somebody would lose a limb in an explosion or they would have to call polenböller. Everyone danced in the dark with sparklers, till their eyesight was tinged in every corner with light.

I never met anyone who was hurt from a firecracker explosion, but noticed the eventual change from ‘firecracker’ to ‘fireworks’ and heard plenty of lectures from my mother about the dangers of firecrackers, which began the summer she did an article about it and a photograph of a friend and me holding sparklers was on the front page of the paper. Ah, my fifteen minutes of fame is already over.

When I had my children, my mother urged me to create special memories for them that they would take with them into their adulthood. Life is different than it was when I was a child. Everyone goes to big displays in town on the 3rd of July, and rather than running amok in the neighborhood, you have to be so careful about how long you will let your children out of your sight. A personal fireworks display is pretty costly to a family on a budget, so going in town seems like the best option.

But, I wanted to do something different. I wanted something exciting. I didn’t want to go camping, and I am not keen on parking miles out of town and walking on foot for a fireworks display that will require being caught in traffic, carrying sleepy children, and a slew of other unpleasant caveats. Also, I have been accused of many things but being outdoorsy is not one of them. I am not generally opposed to the outdoors, but my idea of a good time doesn’t involve midnight hikes to the bathroom, smelling like a campfire, or being eaten alive by mosquitoes.

One year, on a whim we decided to drive to the coast for the day. We headed towards Ocean Shores to fly kites and play on the beach. We packed a picnic and threw a few other supplies in the car and everybody (two kids, at that time) jumped in the minivan. We haven’t purchased fireworks in years, and while a tank of gas in our gas-guzzling family-mobile was probably easily dwarfed by the cost of buying a modest, personal fireworks display, we wanted to go anyway. It’s a four-hour drive, so we were going to make it just in time to take in the afternoon…just in time to drive back, I know. Planning logistics that make sense to the rest of the universe is not one of my strong suits.

It was a beautiful day. Sunny and just on the cusp of being hot but not quite. Once we got to Ocean Shores, it had cooled down with the breeze wafting to shore from the chilly Pacific Ocean water. We’d forgotten swimsuits, so everyone rolled their pants up to their knees and waded in the glistening, bright blue water. Having gloriously neglected that detail as well as many others in our quest for a day of adventure, we all ended up soaked to the waist and covered in sand. We shook the sand out of our flip-flops and made our way to a local pizza joint just up from the beach for lunch. We were intent on heading back to the beach to hoist our kites in the air, build sandcastles and bask in the beauty of the day when we inquired about whether or not there was a fireworks display that evening on the beach from the cashier at the pizzeria. He directed us five miles north from where we were to Ocean City; since Ocean Shores had had their fireworks display the previous evening.

The fireworks would begin just after the sun went down. Rather than heading back to the beach in Ocean Shores we reloaded the herd into the van and drove to Ocean City. We parked on the beach, close to what appeared to be the cordoned-off area for the fireworks display later on, and we took in the cool, crisp dusk ocean air while the kids played in the sand. When it was time, we all cuddled under a blanket and gasped in awe of the fireworks exploding practically right above our heads. Sparkling rivulets of light danced above us as we sat beneath the night huddled together, trying desperately to keep warm. Nothing, however, could have prepared us for the after-fireworks show on the beach. As soon as the first display ended, we began getting ready for the long drive home. The sun had set and our feet were cold since we had all neglected to remember shoes and sock instead of flip-flops and sandals, and my husband and I were drinking now-lukewarm coffee. But, we could not focus on the chill we felt or the regret in not filling our thermos with fresh, hot coffee.

For a moment, the entire beach was still and you could only hear the waves sweep in and sweep out. Then, in what seemed like an instant, all five miles of beach from Ocean City to Ocean Shores began to set off their personal fireworks. It was a panoramic display of light against the backdrop of the Pacific Ocean and a deep, dark ink-blue sky. It was a wall of lights, with all the crackling, shooting sounds filling the chill with a remarkable finish to a perfect, sunny day. The individual displays were undiminished by displays next to them, and it was as if it were choreographed to be just as it was. For an hour or so we basked in the beauty of an entire beach filled with individuals celebrating our country’s independence by thrilling the horizon with the most intense fireworks display I have ever seen.

That moment eternally and indelibly etched a love for this day that I had never before experienced. We decided that every day that we wanted this to be what our family did each year to celebrate the independence of our nation. I have not forgotten the freedom and beauty of that one day, and the memories I carry with me for myself and my family have made this holiday my most favorite.