Recent Splats according to Miz Yank

My Fourth of July, or why watching the fireworks on TV isn’t necessarily a huge dud

I watched D.C.’s Fourth of July fireworks on TV this year, for the first time in my life.

That wasn’t the plan, considering I live just six miles from the city limits. The plan was for my parents to meet me at my house and the three of us would head over to the Air Force Memorial in Arlington at 7 p.m. or so, park our chairs on the hillside, have a picnic, and then enjoy a medium-range view of the pyrotechnics on the Mall.

Maybe it’s less intense than being on the Mall, but we’ve always been willing to sacrifice proximity for the privilege of waiting to see what the weather does. Forty years of living in the D.C. area have taught us that thunderstorms will always threaten to show up at the last minute, as unwelcome and unbidden as pesky in-laws. (Not that the absence of thunderstorms guarantees dryness, mind you. D.C. sits on a swamp, so if the rain doesn’t leave you drenched, oppressive heat and humidity usually will.)

This year, the storms displayed unusually good etiquette and showed up early. But instead of doing a ring-and-run, they hunkered down. A solid 90 minutes of torrential rain turned the Mall into a waterlogged mess, dampening my and my parents’ zeal in the process. At 7 p.m., we were picnicking indoors and contemplating our choices.

Though the rain had abated, the idea of sprawling out on a bed of soggy, muddy muck didn’t thrill me. Yet skipping the show when there was nothing really stopping us felt wrong, too. When I asked my parents what they wanted to do, their faces registered looks I knew well: ambivalence that would become enthusiasm in an instant if their kid so much as hinted at a desire to go.

For once, I thought before I spoke, and that split-second of thinking took me back to my earliest memories of Independence Day in good ol’ Springfield, VA. My sisters and I were serious swimmers in those days, and the league we swam in thought it would be swell to celebrate July Fourth by inflicting yet another meet on our meet-battered parents. Because the only thing better than getting up ungodly early on a Saturday morning and spending hours in sweltering heat to watch your kids swim for a grand total of 90 seconds is doing it on a national holiday. After enduring that ordeal, you’d think the last thing my parents would have wanted to do was pack a cooler, load us four kids into our van, and trek over to the Pentagon to spend hours sweating on the banks of the Potomac –at least it offered new scenery by which to sweat –waiting for the sun to set so fireworks could take over the night sky for 20 minutes. And yet that’s exactly what they did, year after year after year.

At the time, I was glad they did it but I never stopped to wonder why. (I was too busy eating my body weight in Lemon Coolers and other forbidden foods.) A love of world-class fireworks and easy access to them may have played a small role in those trips, but I suspect the two driving forces were love for their kids and profound gratitude for this country.

My parents practice patriotism much like they do religion: quietly, consistently, and with great respect for the fact that it’s personal. I never heard them speak in bumper sticker slogans, nor did they ever foist that kind of thinking on us. And they certainly never led us to view the U.S. as perfect. But through the simple act of taking us to the fireworks every year, they taught us that observing our country’s independence was a big deal, and that we should appreciate what this place offers: unparalleled possibility. If I didn’t get it way back then, I certainly do now, so Mom and Dad had earned their right to sit this one out.

When the time came for me to cast my vote as we sat at the dining room table, I abstained, giving them the freedom from obligation they so richly deserved.

“Let’s go home, then,” Mom said to Dad. He nodded, and off they went.

With a smile on my face, I toddled off to the basement to watch “A Capitol Fourth” on TV. I can’t say I’m dying to repeat the experience, but I’m glad I did it. Not only did it enhance my appreciation of my parents, but it gave me one more chance to catch a glimpse of Barry Manilow.

Our Fourth of July spectacular. All we were missing was the "1812 Overture" and some cannon fire.

Our Fourth of July spectacular. All we were missing was the “1812 Overture” and some cannon fire.


  1. “Inflicting another meet on our meet-battered parents.” That image made me laugh. Loved the memories of past Fourth and fireworks on the Potomac. Here they shoot them off the 3rd at the Recreaction Park. Rather than get in the massive Morgan County crowds we park at the library a half mile away. :). I’ll sheepishly admit to seeing all the rain the morning of the Fourth and not riding into Atlanta and into the masses to run Peachtree. I didn’t want to ruin a $90 pair of shoes and remember the mucky Park from last time I did it in the rain. This makes me feel better. When you’ve checked something off the list, it’s okay to say — it’s wonderful but not for me this year.

    • miz yank says:

      Glad to be of service! Seriously, sometimes you just have to throw down the sanity card, and it’s always nice when Mother Nature makes it an easier play. 🙂