Happy 4th of July, Dear Readers!
Here’s the thing, I’m kind of obsessed with this holiday.
I’m not overly patriotic or anything, but I do LOVE anything that gets the community together all in one place. It feels like you’re right in the middle of the action. So, I wrote about Grand Junction on the 4th of July. The following was published in July 2011′s Event Connection from WesternColorado.com.
A Grand Junction Fourth of July
by Carrington Schaeffer
I have so many wonderful memories of growing up in the Grand Valley, but, without a doubt, some of my very favorites are of the Fourth of July when I was a kid. This holiday always comes at the zenith of summer, transforming people of all ages from clumps of lazy bodies parked in front of rickety swamp coolers into an excited throng of firework-gazers pulsating with anticipation.
During the day, our families would take us hiking the Monument or picnicking at Highline Lake, the blackened soles of our feet padding over rocks or dragging through the dirt. But by far, the best Fourth of July event is the annual Fireworks Spectacular at Lincoln Park. As evening approached we towed our food, blankets, and store bought fireworks to the park. Small American flags, stuck into the front lawn of each house by the local Boy Scout troupe, whipped around in the dry breeze. Everywhere we looked, adults lounged in lawn chairs in the shade of cottonwood and elm trees, fanned themselves with old copies of the Daily Sentinel, and drank iced tea while kids excitedly clogged the sidewalks.
When we finally reached Lincoln Park, us kids ran to claim the best spot; it had to possess sufficient tree-age to shade us from the July sun without blocking our view of the much-anticipated fireworks show. Then, we would romp around the park, visiting old friends we hadn’t seen since the end of the school year and dumping plastic cups full of water on the heads of boys we secretly liked. Our parents would give us boxes of tiny paper wads full of gunpowder that gave off loud pops when we threw them on the ground and, when our parents weren’t looking, at each other.
After we ran around so much we thought our lungs would pop, we feasted on all kinds of picnic foods: delectably burned hot dogs and the first Palisade peaches of the season whose juices squirted and dripped down our arms and faces when we bit into their fuzzy skins. We wiped our sticky hands on our red, white, and blue American pride T-shirts our moms always bought for us to wear specifically on Independence Day.
After we had written our names in the sky with sparklers, the first firework shot up from somewhere on the park’s nearby golf course and exploded into the sky; the stadium, which had been filled with the roar of JUCO fans a month earlier, now echoed with the crash of those first triumphant peals. The entire town inhaled together as we propped our heads up with wadded blankets, hugged our knees, and buried our toes into the soft, over-washed downiness of 1980s neon-printed comforters.
The welcomed smell of gunpowder mixed with the perfume of chlorine from our nearby community pool burned in our noses. Each small, shooting flame erupted in the sky, flinging its arms and legs out before finally melting into a spidery, smoky outline illuminated by the next explosion. During the show, I always liked to look around at all the faces quietly mesmerized by the overhead display as each firework gave every bit of its short life to the delight of wide-eyed and sunburned faces of kids and adults alike. The whole town breathed in unison; after especially loud pops, we would communally gasp, our voices melting together. We threw our arms around each other, all feeling that very moment would definitely be included in some imagined video montage of our lives. The show picked up the pace, and the fireworks started to overlap. All too soon, it was the finale; we thought the Heavens and our eardrums would be ripped apart as the sky rocketed into near daylight brightness.
And then it was over. A hush fell over the crowd followed by cheers erupting from all four corners of Grand Junction. Then, in a flash, parents frantically grabbed for water coolers and lawn chairs and corralled us to pick up blankets and trash. The crowd made one huge beeline to be the first to get home as we navigated through the smoke to our car. Before we knew it, we were asleep and being carried inside by our dad as the thick layer of fog descended upon our town, blanketing our houses and dreams with combusted residue and nostalgia.
Even now, as an adult, I look forward to the Fourth of July, and when it comes, ever bright and shining with the promise of togetherness, I still find myself looking around at all the firework-lit faces in the crowd with a sense of pride. But if I really think about it, it’s not the fireworks or the food or the dumping cups of water on boys that makes the day for me; it’s about community, about the whole town turning out for this one event. For one day, we are reminded what it means to be united as one, not only as a town but also as a country, a nation that is built upon the idea that decency, respect, freedom (and joy over the thrill of pyrotechnics) are virtues that belong to everyone. I find I still throw my arms around my fellow landsmen with the same love and charity I had when I was a kid.
I’m proud I’m an American, and I’m glad I’m still that kid…just with cleaner feet.