No 4th of July will ever match 1976. Watching fireworks in Philadelphia on the bicentennial, Tall ships docked nearby, sitting 10 floor ups above the Liberty Bell. That and sitting outside my middle school watching fireworks with only my friends and no family for the first time are defining ones. Maybe, the first one we watched with Maddox Finkel too. (or the first one that didn't scare him)
But, I think we've gotten too caught up; going where the crowds are, trying to see the "biggest show", synchronized music, sitting in lofts and skyscrapers. We've lost the neighborhood/community side of it (yes, I know there's still neighborhood parades in Lakewood and UP and they're pretty wonderful). So, years ago we stopped going. The fireworks became just a noise in the background that we'd hear a couple times a year, and freaked out our dog for a few years until she got past that.
Anne Hamilton decided she wanted to see fireworks or do something this year. I really dislike crowds so I fought the idea until I realized that everywhere has fireworks but not everywhere has crowds. Several friends had mentioned Ben Wheeler, Texas as a growing arts community, kind of a small town Austin or northern Marfa. Looking on the map it was not a long drive. So, we made plans to go.
It took us directly past the "new" Buc-ees so we stopped by for the first time and were overwhelmed by the amount of stuff. Anne was shocked years ago at the rest stops on the Jersey Turnpike and their food courts and shops. But, Buc-cees was like a mini Texas themed Target mashed up with a QT and auto parts shop.
The Ben Wheeler downtown is one street with about 10 shops in total. No square, no marble courthouse. The storefronts look like they're straight out of a Jimmy Stewart western. You may have seen my photo of the Pig Bus too. Unfortunately many of them, including the record store, were closed. But, that only means we'll have to go back. Anne found a dress shop Glitz & Spurs Boutique that opened that day. It's a family owned/run shop and they were great. (Definitely worth the drive to check out.) Continuing our theme, the college age daughter told us that she loves Dallas and wants to move to the big city eventually. But, small town girls are different now maybe? She co-owns the shop, runs their online presence, has a double masters and will move on to a PHd in Business Administration. So, maybe she dreams of moving away to the big city and watching Synchronized Fireworks from a loft surrounded by skyscrapers or maybe she'll always keep a bit of the charm of living in a town with 5000 people who all know each other with her as she moves on?
That's the thing, this was the first time since my middle school fireworks that I felt a sense of community at fireworks. They shoot the fireworks off in the empty field next to the fire station and the pig bus. Young men from town drive up in their Trans Ams and F-150s and set up the bases and fireworks. Bands play in the Gazebo before. Plus, the temps were in the 70s and there was a nice breeze. At the booths they sell hats and shirts raising funds for the Fire Department and their annual Hog Fest. The fireworks are set off from a roped in area in front of the crowd. They don't shoot them very high because everyone there is maybe 30-60 yards from the fireworks. Other than us, everyone there seems to know each other. The show was great. In fact it was, maybe, too long. Anne and I both were ready for it to stop earlier than it did. Being in the small handful of "out of towners" our wait to leave was pretty minimal. Yes, it was an hour and a half drive home but we saw parts of about 8 other fireworks shows on the way home.
Take our advice, one of these years, turn down the big city festival, synchronized, skyscraper/loft, event, traffic nightmare fireworks and drive out to a small town (the further the population is under 10,000 the better). Be part of their community for a day. Support their local businesses. Stand for the national anthem with them and enjoy a great night of fireworks and America.
It's guaranteed to be a memorable night.