Full dark finally in mid-summer, about 9:30. Our younger son, Joe, had been put to bed an hour before. My wife Sally had driven to pick up our older son, Bud, who was out celebrating with friends on his last day home before leaving for prep school summer session.
The first sharp boom came, easily identifiable as hometown fireworks. You get to know the sounds, the echoes, the directions, and the distances. A certain timbre announces Haverhill's fireworks. Another, you know it's Methuen. Yet another, Lawrence. Andover, because of the intervening hills and trees, sounds only faintly.
But the hometown boom here in North Andover is unmistakable. I picked up a lawn chair and, dressed in my summer pajamas, sweatsuit and slippers, staked out a spot on our driveway. There, with my cigar, I could see most of the fireworks display from the Middle School athletic field, a mile away -- all except the low-exploding phosphorus cracklers, which are blocked by trees.
I HAVE AIRED MANY A GRIPE ABOUT MASSACHUSETTS. But, around the Fourth of July, Massachusetts takes its fireworks very seriously. For our first ten years here, we lived in Charlestown, an easy walk to the Charlestown Navy Yard, one of America's capitals of pyrotechnia. From the Navy Yard, we could see the displays from Fan Pier in downtown Boston, just across the harbor, from the North End (close enough to Charlestown that redcoats encamped there could hear rebels building the fortifications for the battle of Bunker Hill in Charlestown; it was quieter back then), and, for many years, the granddaddy of all displays, the Boston Pops concert ending with the 1812 Overture's cannonade and fireworks set off from a giant barge in the Charles River Basin.
A good ten score people or more would gather on the Mead Street steps in Charlestown, a tradition of decades, from where we could see the Charles River display perfectly. Unfortunately, developers have built big condos in between, and you can't do that anymore.
So on this night, our son's last night truly at home, leading to a tomorrow that would be one of the signal days of our lives, I sat in our driveway and watched the brilliant explosions. There were the big, slow, graceful rockets raining down red, green, white, yellow, or blue, like fiery weeping willows in glowing motion. The firemen set off rapid cannonades in alternate rhythm with the high-flying skyrockets. I especially loved the pauses, when the roaring echoes rolled in tidal waves across our valley.
Massachusetts has some 300 cities and towns. Every year, nearly every one of them sets aside several thousand dollars from its municipal budget and cheerfully blows it up. It makes me glad that I am here.
Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.
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