My favorite Fourth of July memory involves my father and the 1986 centenary celebration of the Statue of Liberty in New York City. It was the summer before eighth grade, and I was 12. We spent the day as we often celebrated July 4—at my dad’s cousin’s barbecue on Staten Island (for those of you new to this blog, I grew up in New Jersey). But that night, when we went to watch the fireworks, I had no idea that I would be participating in history.
I know Dad must have told us about the Statue of Liberty milestone. But I didn’t realize that I was about to have a front-row seat to the largest fireworks display in history.
But first, a little history of my own.
My dad grew up poor. Very poor. In New York City. He is the first-generation son of Spanish immigrants. My grandfather worked for the train company, a blue-collar job, and my grandmother stayed home and raised the three kids, my dad being the eldest and only son. He was encouraged to work hard so that his children would have more than my grandfather could provide for my dad and his sisters.
For my dad, this didn’t necessarily mean education. Oh, he’s a big proponent, don’t get me wrong. I was going to college. That was never a question. But my dad didn’t. He got his GED in the Marines, but never went farther than to take a couple of classes when he was stationed stateside.
But my father is one of the most intelligent men I know (and that’s saying something). And he has that rare combination of high intelligence, great common sense, and street smarts.
This also means that my dad is resourceful. And he’s very creative with finding things to do without spending a lot of money.
So, when he wanted to take us to see the fireworks for this big celebration, we didn’t go somewhere we’d need tickets, like Liberty State Park. We went down to the Hudson—River, that is. We natives just say the Hudson—and sat right on the wall with our feet dangling over the edge. Us and goodness only knows how many of our fellow Americans.
While we waited for the fireworks to start (we had to get there pretty early, as you can imagine), I remember bits and pieces. Hanging out with my dad, whom at that point I only saw every other weekend as my parents had divorced. My dad dropping cherry bombs into the water so we could watch them explode underwater (yeah, yeah, I know, but it was the ’80s).
And what a show. It included some 22,000 aerial fireworks, making it the largest display in American history. And it was amazing. Simply amazing. I doubt I’ll ever see anything like it. It felt like watching the universe being born, it was so all encompassing.
And there I was, in the middle of it all. Awestruck.
So, when I look up at the fireworks this weekend, I’ll try not to compare them to that memory. Instead, I’ll try to remember that feeling of awe.
I hope you can do the same.
Allyson Longueira is publisher of WMG Publishing. She is an award-winning writer, editor and designer.