The sun is brushing the tops of the tall oak trees with its soft, golden rays, on its way to its nightly slumber, as people began filtering in to the city park. Charcoal grills filled with hamburgers and hotdogs fill the air with a familiar scent. Memories are triggered of young boys and small campfires; sticks hold hotdogs that are charred black on the outside, but are deliciously pink and hot on the inside.
A few people are unpacking their ice cream makers from vans and car trunks, carrying their homemade sweet treats to be judged in the annual homemade ice cream contest. These are not “professional” ice cream makers, after the fashion of those who compete nationally in bar-b-que contests. These are neighbors – Jennie, the teller from the bank; Heather, a nurse from the local hospital; Tony, the pastor of the First Baptist Church, among others.
The crowd begins filling in the blank spaces on the carpet of grass like letters in a crossword puzzle. Taking careful note of the angle of the sun they discuss where the best shade will be and from what angle the fireworks display can best be seen. Like homesteaders throwing their pegs into the Oklahoma Territory, they unfurl quilts – quilts of every color and design, making them snap in the summer air and letting them float to the ground, forming a perfect rectangle that will define where their property begins and ends.
And everywhere you look there are smiles. Greetings are shouted across the way between neighbors who live next to each other, but in the hectic pace of life never see or speak to each other. Tonight everyone steps out of the rat race, takes a collective breath, exhales, and enjoyed the pleasures of living in a small town.
The mayor, from a face reddened with exertion at helping everyone get in place for the evening’s events, gives his welcome. The local State Representative reads from the Constitution of the United States, reminding all of the reason for this holiday. Everyone is reverently silent as a prayer is lead.
As the sun disappears, shadows became the rule. Bright lights are switched on.
Local folks provide the evening’s entertainment, singing a variety of songs, some surprising the crowd at how good they are and others causing people to wince and share knowing looks. But no one boos or complains because these are people you knew and you feel badly for them. An equally appreciative round of applause is given to each performer.
Red faced, sweating children with blue stained lips from the snow cone they’ve eaten begin wandering through the crowd looking for their family. They are weary of all this preamble of activity. They are eager for what everyone came to see, but adults have been too polite to be insistent on – the fireworks!
After what seems an unusually long rendition of a country song, the last performer leaves the stage.
The mayor introduces the Color Guard. Silence spreads across the crowd like a gentle ocean tide. The scuffing of the soldier’s boots on the parking lot can be heard as they march into place. At the playing of taps you can hear sniffling. Some can be seen wiping a tear that has spilled unexpectedly onto their cheek as they remember a loved one who had paid the ultimate sacrifice for liberty.
Suddenly all the lights in the Park are extinguished and there is a sound resembling a cannon shot. People’s heads spin toward the sound. In the night sky there is a burst of sound and color that brings appreciative applause and uninhibited “ooo’s and ah’s”. A sea of upturned faces are cast in shades of red, amber, and white.
And with the strains of John Phillip Sousa playing loudly, the fireworks perform their hypnotic dance across the night sky.