As I've mentioned in previous posts (click here and here and here) the Fourth of July is my holiday. As a youngster I fell in love with the fireworks, and when I grew and came to understand what the day was all about, it became my favorite holiday.
My kids were never big fireworks fans like me, but they learned to indulge ol' dad on the Fourth. So my next challenge is the grandkids, and I had a chance to begin the indoctrination Saturday night when we went over to Menomonie for a great evening with my son Will's in-laws, Steve and Kelly Redmann. They live on a nice spread outside of Menomonie where they keep a few horses and - for the past four or five years - they've been having family and friends over around the Fourth for a cookout and some big-time fireworks that Steve puts together.
Thanks to last August's wedding, we're now family, so this year we got our first invite, and it was a treat. About 40 or so people were there, Steve did a masterful job of grilling and when the sun set behind the pines, it was time for fireworks.
(To digress for a moment: In Wisconsin you are allowed to buy real fireworks. A shell that you can put in a tube, light a long fuse and then watch a high launch followed by a big explosion and bright colors. In Minnesota, you're only allowed by tiny firecrackers and sparklers. This year the Legislature voted to allow bigger and better fireworks in Minnesota, but our afraid-of-his-shadow Governor vetoed the bill, which means the jobs, tax revenue and fun generated by the fireworks industry will continue to stay out of our state. Nice work, Guv.)
Come fireworks time, my choices were limited. Seven-week-old C-Jack, of course, is not ready for the show, and grandson Sambo has decided it's too much noise and still too scary, so he wanted to stay in the house.
Annie, however - The Smartest Little Girl in the Universe - decided to set aside her fears and go outside with Opa. So we found a nice lawn chair and settled back for the show.
The noise of the first shell startled her, but then she saw the colors and decided it wasn't too bad. She still didn't like the noise, but that got a little easier to take when Kelly kindly brought out a pair of ear protectors for her. Annie settled back in my lap and started to enjoy it a bit more. Still a little scary, still a little too noisy, but she was willing to hang in there, so I decided it was time to mix in a little instruction.
"Do you know why we shoot off fireworks?" I asked her.
"Because it's the Fourth of July," she answered. I asked her what was special about the Fourth of July, and she said she didn't know.
"It's America's birthday," I explained. "The Fourth of July is when America became a country, and we celebrate by shooting off fireworks."
Pretty basic stuff, and I wasn't sure that her four-year-old mind really grasped it, but I felt like that was enough for one night. She still didn't like the noise, but she began offering a little applause after each shell went off.
A while later, when the show was over and it was time to head home, we loaded up in the car and began the ride back to Red Wing. Traveling down the highway, we suddenly saw the lights from another fireworks display off on the horizon, illuminating the sky above some treetops a couple miles away.
"See those fireworks?" she asked everyone in the car. "That's where America is!"
Close enough for a four-year-old, and up in the front seat, Opa choked up just a little bit. There will be time later for John Adams and Philadelphia and Jefferson and John Hancock and King George and self-evident truths and our sacred honor, but I think we've got the first building block in place.