CELEBRATING JULY 4th

Celebrating July 4th has always made me feel proud to be an American, no matter where I might have been living at the time. Fireworks are the capper: exciting and a bit ethereal.

Fireworks by Heidi Giraud

Fireworks painted by Heidi Giraud

The fireworks in Washington, D.C. are probably the most spectacular of any I’ve seen. I remember going with friends Ellen and Braxton, in the early ‘60s, to see them at the Washington Monument on the Mall. Since the crowds were dense and the parking sparse, we drove into D.C. early, way before it got dark.

With a blanket (no folding seats like today) and a few snacks, we explored the grassy area around the Monument for a likely spot. We were soon surrounded by hundreds of people. There was probably some entertainment, but I only remember the incredible variety of fireworks—all sorts of colors and types of explosions, including large frames standing on the ground that displayed patriotic graphics like the flag or faces of presidents in exploding fireworks.

Lying on my back watching the pyrotechnics explode above the white spire of the Washington Monument was an amazing experience.

Thanks to public television, PBS, I’ve watched the July 4th entertainment and fireworks from Washington D.C. for years. It’s presented on a stage across from the Capitol. In the summer of my college years, there were always concerts and plays to attend around that area. When I was in high school my church group put on a Christmas play there (I played a large toy rabbit in “The Little Match Girl”). It’s fun to reminisce about my connections to Washington, especially as I get older.

I'm the Rabbit in The Little Match Girl

I’m the Rabbit in The Little Match Girl at National Mall in D.C.

This week PBS presented a documentary about the National Mall, and it brought back many memories. One college summer I worked for the Navy Dept. in a WWII temp building, a short walk from the magnificent Lincoln Memorial. Over the years, I have visited the Smithsonian Institute Museum (the older “castle” with Lindberg’s plane, and the newer one), the wonderful Art Museum designed by I.M. Pei, visited Congress (both Senate and House of Representatives), seen the Air and Space Museum, enjoyed the cherry blossoms at the Jefferson Memorial, appreciated the summer Watergate Concerts on the Potomac close to Lincoln Memorial. I hiked up the Washington Monument twice! I also attended the marvelous Shakespeare plays during the summer on the Mall. Some day I’ll be back to enjoy some of the new museums.

In the 1950s I was living in North Africa. I no longer recall if there were fireworks in Tripoli on the 4th, but it was hard to beat the camel and donkey rides on Thirteen Kilometer Beach, not to mention the hot dogs and other goodies. The more recent Sex and the City movie featured the stars riding camels, which reminded me of my camel ride. The camels we rode on that Tripoli beach weren’t as well groomed or attractive; they looked a bit mangy, and were muzzled since camels do bite. I can still imagine the way it felt to be so high up, grasping the horn of the swaying saddle as the camel moved in a sandy circle while the owner held onto a rope.

There’s a German celebration in Heidelberg in the summer that uses fireworks quite effectively. The “Burning of the Castle” commemorates the few times the castle was actually burned, twice in the 17th century. My family joined my brother’s Cub Scout troop on a boat on the Neckar River and watched while all the lights in Heidelberg were turned off. The impressive fireworks, that looked like real fire, came from the Old Bridge across the Neckar and from the ruined Castle on a hill above the famous old city.

Here’s a toast to the Chinese invention of fireworks in the 12th century and to our Declaration of Independence in the 18th century!

One Comment

  1. Diana Becker Mullins says:

    Remember watching fire works at Wheelus near the open air theater and the finalé
    Was a huge explosion of an American flag floating down through “the rockets red glare and the bombs bursting in air”. Also, an airman fainting and an ambulance coming.

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