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  • Fireworks

    If you ever want to truly appreciate fireworks, watch them with a bunch of little kids.

    When I was a child, my folks would always find some place to watch fireworks on the 4th of July. Since we moved around a lot, Dad being in the Navy, my brother Jack and I got to see displays in various states before Dad retired in 1968. California, Virginia, Illinois. One year we sat on the roof of my grandpa's house in Peoria, Illinois and watched the fireworks across the street in Peoria stadium. Climbing up the ladder and sitting on folding lawn chairs on the back porch roof was part of the attraction. Another year we sat on our own front porch in Forrestal Village and watched sailors firing off fireworks over the former parade grounds the concrete quad plexes ringed.

    When I moved back to Peoria, Illinois in 1989, I was surprised to learn the fireworks had been moved from the stadium to Glen Oak Park over the lagoon. It was a pleasant surprise when I learned the fireworks were next to the outdoor amphitheater and the Peoria Civic Band would play live music during the display. In 1994, I took my granddaughters to the watch them.

    Have you ever tried to keep track of a five year old, two four year olds, and two two year olds when there are only two of you? Crystal Anne was fairly easy, since she was the oldest and loved to help us when she could. Michelle and Melissa were the ones that kept us busy. Four year olds are adventurers. They want to explore everything. But besides the multiple vendors lining the inside of the fence at the amphitheater, the place is literally packed with people. And Michelle and Melissa loved to meet people.

    Knowing the crowd would be huge, we always tried to arrive early so we could get a good spot unobstructed by trees or vehicles. We'd walk the nine blocks from our house to the park, which meant carrying a blanket, water bottles, snacks, extra clothes for each of the girls, lawn chairs for the adults, and other sundry items. While pushing strollers with the three year olds, who objected to them and insisted they were big girls and could walk with their sisters. Brittni and Rabecca were never happy about riding to the park in strollers. Coming home, they never objected since they were usually fast asleep.

    Getting there early enough to secure a good spot meant being there about an hour and a half before the show actually begins. If you know anything about children at that age, you should know their attention span is somewhere between three and five minutes. And there are only so many things you can pack with you that will keep them occupied for very long.

    Once we reached the park, I would usually give my wife charge over Brittni and Rabecca, who would be content to play with dolls or some small toy they had brought for a while on the blanket while I attempted to corral Crystal, Michelle, and Melissa on a walk around the park to look at the vendors and their goods. It was the usual, lots of glowing necklaces and poppers, cotton candy, popcorn, lemonade and sodas and hot dogs and trinkets that would last an hour or two before being broken and disposed of.
    One year there was a carnival just outside the fence on the park side.

    So for a little under two hours, we worked at making sure the girls did not wander off or get into some sort of trouble. But when the fireworks were about to start, everything settled down. I still remember vividly the first set of “oooooohs” coming from the blanket as the show began. With the band playing everything from the theme to the movie “Batman” to various patriotic marches, the explosions continued overhead. With every “Whoosh....whistle....boom” came another set of “ooooooohs” from the blanket. The five girls sat in awe as the sky became a palette of colors against the stars and the moon.

    The show lasted about forty five minutes, and the crowd moved almost as one to pack their gear and get to their cars. I gathered up Brittni and Rabecca and strapped them in while Sandy began to collect the blanket and fold the chairs. Crystal Anne held hands with Melissa and Michelle to make sure they would not wander off, and within about three minutes we were ready to go. As we pushed the strollers with the now sleeping three year olds, I waited for about four blocks and heard the familiar, “Grandpa, its too far, I'm tired” from Melissa and Michelle. Par for the course, I thought, and explained I couldn't carry them since my hands were full.

    When we made it back to the house, Sandy carried in one sleeper, then the other and got them into their beds while the older three each carried in the blanket and other items. Once I had the strollers folded and ready to store, I followed in and directed traffic while they got ready for bed.

    About an hour later, I was thinking to myself how much I enjoyed the night. Oh, fireworks themselves had become old hat to me by then. But it wasn't the fireworks I was enjoying. It was the chance to hear all those “oooohs” coming from my granddaughters' mouths, the chance to watch their faces as the fireworks painted the sky.

    I sure miss having little girls around.

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