Our summer begins in July—almost always. I know that in other areas of the country, Memorial Day is the kick-off for summer, but in the Pacific Northwest, it’s the Fourth of July.
When I was growing up—back in the seventies—we weren’t rich. We struggled. But my parents always found enough money to buy a basic box of fireworks. Sparklers, Snakes, a couple of Whistling Petes, and sometimes some sort of exploding cone.
We weren’t allowed to set them off before the Fourth. That was the rule and no matter how much we begged, my parents didn’t give in.
So, on the fourth, we’d begin the festivities with a family picnic which included my grandparents and Aunt Marge—who we were sandwiched between—and my grandmother’s sister, Aunt Peg, my great-grandfather, and my cousins, Mark and Mike, if they were in town.
Aunt Marge had this great day room that held a table big enough for all of us and opened up onto the patio. She had green Adirondack chairs and a bench swing on her patio. And a crumbling fireplace barbeque that we roasted marshmallows in. Dad would make his potato salad—crunchy awesomeness—and his fried chicken—man, do I miss my dad’s cooking. Grandma usually brought a ham and Aunt Marge, chocolate cake. Nobody really liked whatever Aunt Peg brought and Grandpa Joe got a pass.
After the eating was done, we’d have water fights and play games until dusk when the real fun began. Yep. The fireworks.
We’d go down to our yard and everyone would stand away as Dad did the honors to my mom’s cries of, “Be careful, Jim.” Sometimes Grandpa would surprise us with extra fireworks that he bought for us.
Then after our small stash was depleted, we’d troop down to Grandma and Grandpa’s and climb up to their roof to wait for the Fort Vancouver Fireworks to begin at nightfall—around ten o’clock. Sitting on their house, we could see forever. At least until they tore down the filbert grove and started building houses—two story houses.
Here’s the thing about the Fort Vancouver Fireworks—for years, it was the one thing that made our community special.
Living in the shadow of Portland, Oregon, isn’t the easiest place to be. We in the couve, sometimes resent the overshadow—like when Mt. St. Helens blew and the national news interviewed people from Portland. Really??? And now that I reread that, I sound as if we’re all about blowing stuff up. Even our natural catastrophes.
But the Fort fireworks are ours. There have been years that up to 100k people—including Portlanders—have shown up, traipsed through the park, found a place to throw a blanket and settled in for the biggest firework display west of the Mississippi—bragging rights, there.
There’s live music, food, games, tours of the Fort, and people galore—friends you haven’t seen in years.
I don’t know if it’s still the biggest firework display west of the Mississippi—the economy tanked and almost shut it down a few years ago—but it’s still the biggest event in Vancouver.
And it’s a hot summer night.
Happy Fourth to everyone. May your day be filled with love, laughter, and merriment. May your night skies be clear and fireworks plenty. Above all else, be safe and happy!