On the 4th of July Milwaukee is like Pleasantville, USA. This becomes a place where people are “swell and perky.” American flags fly proudly. Kids decorate their bikes in festive red, white and blue. There is a parade with floats, clowns, animals and classic cars. You can win a stuffed animal at the carnival. Roasted sweet corn, snow cones and cotton candy are standard fare, along with plenty of beer.
I love a holiday with no religion.
Family travels in and the walls of our house expand to fit whoever can stand the chaos. My famous American flag cake is expected. I don’t formally invite friends; it’s an open annual event by now. The barbecue grill is fired up for hours. We skip the carnival and the parade and spend the day in the water.
When darkness sets in, we move to the deck, leaning on the railing in anticipation. Local fireworks are launched from a nearby park and we can see them from our backyard. The colors light up the night sky and reflect off the lake. The deep booms and short pops are magnified and echoed in the bowl of the lake. Only after our dog Marley lost her hearing in her later years could she finally relax during the show.
Who can resist the glory of fireworks? Those brilliant, loud, flashes of light mesmerize even the cynics. Scientists say we like them because they scare us. I say they are a part of our collective unconscious. They bring us back to a time we believed in magic. Even when experienced in a group, the experience is paradoxically internal and personal: fireworks stir up a sense of nostalgia, wonder, and possibility.