The Bombs Bursting in Air

As a writer, I’m an avid people watcher/hypothesizer/analyzer. And, honestly, I think there’s no other holiday that’s as revealing about individual character than the Fourth of July.

Sure, like any other holiday, we all have are own particular childhood memories of Independence Days long gone, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about how we react to the holiday as full-blown adults.

Some people go all out for it, buying hundreds of dollars of fire works, grilling up a storm, drinking and lighting up the sky well into the dark. Others hunker down in their homes, wrapping their dogs in “thunder shirts” while contemplating a non-emergency call to the police department to report a neighbor or eight for breaking city ordinances about fireworks. And others, like me, are somewhere in the middle.

My neighbor—I think—is in a class by himself.

A quiet, middle-aged vet, he’s very, very patriotic. And, thus, the Fourth of July is his favorite holiday.

One he celebrates by tossing homemade M-80s into his backyard at random intervals all day while getting progressively drunker.

And, just in case you don’t know what an M-80 is (I didn’t until it rattled my windows for the first time), it’s a giant-ass firework that doesn’t produce pretty colors or designs or anything like that. All it does is explode. LOUDLY.

BOOM.

Yes, basically, for nearly twenty-four hours each year, our quaint little Kansas neighborhood sounds like a periodic war zone.

I am not exaggerating. Every time one goes off, kids start crying (not just my kid, but pretty much any child within a block radius), birds shoot out of the trees, and my big-eared Welsh corgi nearly pees where she’s standing.

You can imagine that our first year in the house, this did not go over well. There’d been no warning. Our son was about 18 months and still napping, and our dog’s hearing was much better than it is today. I’d never really seen myself as an Independence Day scrooge until that first holiday, when, dealing with a cranky toddler and dog pee, I wondered why the hell people do stuff like that.

I mean, my neighbor has to know it’s annoying. He has to know it upsets children and animals. He has to know it’s illegal to A. blow up fireworks within our city limits and B. make your own fireworks to illegally blow up in our city limits. (I’m sure the cop that lives on the other side of him also knows this, but I digress.)

But the Fourth of July is his thing.

He’s a good neighbor. He gifts us food from his garden, helps my hubby with projects, invites us to his house for an annual Christmas party. He pets our dog, smiles and waves, and gamely has conversations with my five-year-old over the fence.

Yes. A very good neighbor.

With a very specialized reaction to the Fourth of July.

And years from now, that will be probably what I remember most about our neighbor. His love of the Fourth has been permanently etched into my own personal character sketch of him.

How would your main character respond to the holiday?

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10 thoughts on “The Bombs Bursting in Air”

  1. No one has called the authorities to stop him? That’s a Fourth of July miracle!

    I’m sorry you have to listen to that, and you’re kind to take it in the spirit demonstrated here. Wow. I think this shows a lot about your kind heart, Sarah!

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  2. Ah, the M80. I know it well. Non-explosive fireworks are legal in PA (meaning sparklers or things that let off the pretty colors, but don’t go boom). That doesn’t mean people don’t stretch the rules.

    Your question is fascinating. My main character would probably do a cookout with friends. Kick back with a beer. He’s got a dog, so no fireworks, but his neighbor has kids, so he might get them a box of sparklers. For fireworks, he’d probably go watch them – he might even get up the nerve to ask his female friend.

    Oh, and since he’s a cop, he’d probably stop and ask your neighbor to knock it off – politely at first, more firmly if necessary. =)

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  3. Of my 4 characters, Mia Thomas and Samantha Kidd would be similar: both would put together a patriotic outfit to honor the event. (Mia runs a costume shop so hers would be a little sillier than Samantha’s). Madison would take her dog Rocky to a dog park, and Poly would go to a cookout.

    I love the 4th of July, and this year I even made my own outfit. No M80s,though!

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  4. I grew up in NC where it was illegal to have personal fireworks. We ran around the yard with sparklies and drove out to the golf course for the big show. It was coincidentally my father’s birthday, so I’d pretend it was all for him. It’s also our very own Cynthia Kuhn’s birthday. Ha!

    The news talked about being considerate to vets with PTSD this year and not setting off lots and lots of big booms because it would send them back to war in their minds. I guess they thought people would be more likely to consider vets than animals. Interesting the real noise in your neighborhood comes from a vet. BTW, I love how you say he “gamely has conversations with my five-year-old over the fence.” That really paints a picture.

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  5. Oh, long ago we had a dog who was terrified of thunder, so every afternoon in the summer we’d leave her in the house with Mozart playing rather loudly. Then the thunder didn’t phase her. We’d have to hold her on July 4th night while she shook.

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  6. Happy belated birthday, Cynthia! I’m glad no one commenting yet *makes* M-80s. Though, it would be interesting to know *why* people like them. And thanks for the compliment, Theresa!

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  7. Sarah, your neighborhood sounds like a valuable mine for characters. My husband and his childhood friend loved making their own explosives as kids, and well into adulthood. It was all about the bang. The arrival of children has slowed them down some. I’m not a fan of the loud ones–I’m more of a pretty color girl–but it’s lovely that you appreciate your neighbor’s good traits!

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  8. In our neighborhood, even sparklers are illegal, so I imagine my character Nell would take it upon herself to police the neighborhood and make sure everyone stays safe!

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