My wife is, for the record, right about many, many things. Like, a staggering percentage of the time. So even though I remain privately convinced (well, I suppose this hardly counts as "private" anymore) that it was always the Union parking garage we'd used in the past, I freely and happily admit that the roof of the parking garage next to OU's Catlett Music Center makes a sterling vantage point for watching Norman's official fireworks display in Reaves Park. Especially if SOMEbody leaves the stadium lights on and so compromises the Union view. Some of the lower-altitude ephemera was obscured by intervening rooflines, but it's the giant artillery-style stuff that brings in the crowds and keeps them spellbound for the whole fifteen minutes. (Sidebar: Unless said crowds were in San Diego last year, which played unwitting host to probably the shortest and most magnificently unexpected pyrotechnic show ever when the whole 18-minute carefully choreographed shebang accidentally went up all at once in a 15-second cataclysm. I think that makes it more properly a sheboom.)
Displays go on all over the metro and beyond, of course, but having lived in Norman for eight years before moving just over the border into south Moore, that OU-adjacent show is the one to which I most naturally gravitate. And while I don't go every year, it occurs to me that in my first 35 years of Steveness, I don't think I've ever been out of the state for the 4th of July. Home is where the explosions are. The holiday is less a force in my summer now than when I was a kid, both because I tend to invest less time and excitement into holidays and because however majestic the enormous glittering blossoms of scarlet and gold are against the night sky, seeing a display from half a mile distant just isn't as visceral as scampering a few feet away as the hiss quickly intensifies to a crescendoing BANG or WHIZ – or both – behind you.
I grew up down in the southeast corner of the state, where sweltering wooden shacks were dotted thickly along the main drag as June came crawling to a sticky end; rickety, dimly lit treasure troves packed full of temptations with names like Camelia Flowers, Hurricanes, Phoenix Missiles, Screaming Mimis … We three siblings meticulously took stock of our leftover inventory from the previous year and scribbled shopping lists with notes like "big Roman Candles – NO snakes [which were sort of interesting but not really exciting; one box lasted us a few years because we kept getting distracted by flashier alternatives] – pop pops? – BLACK CATS!!!!" In case the remembered typography doesn't carry enough emphasis, those were our primary stock-in-trade – loud, forceful, a little bit dangerous. We also loved bottle rockets, but since they were reputedly more perilous we could only get them by waiting for a family trip into Fort Smith (about half an hour away and, more importantly, across the Arkansas border) and asking Papa to stop long enough for us to pool our finances and buy a gross. Even though I can perfectly recall that ZZZZzzzzcrack as they arced out of the Pepsi can and sped off into the blue to erupt over Mrs. Newman's roof, bottle rockets couldn't do it for me alone; I craved that BLAM that lifted a Del Monte can a few inches off the ground, or tore an escape hatch into the wall of an increasingly battered Pepsi can. I remember once losing the hearing in my left ear for a day or so after the lit fuse fell off rather than burning down, so I bent over and touched the end of the firecracker with my lit punk. (I might have been trying to impress a young lady with my bravado.) (It might not have worked.) I remember the legendary time my friend Charley lit a Black Cat and stuffed it into the burned-out barrel of a Roman Candle we had discarded as a dud; after the report it fired off its remaining six fireballs. It was awesome.
But we only destroyed trash – never our own possessions, or ourselves, or each other – and however much I might have vibrated with glee at the prospect of explosions alone, they're far from the holiday's only highlight in retrospect: my dad would build a campfire in the back yard and we'd roast hot dogs and set fire to marshmallows while trying to make s'mores. Some years he'd even set up a tent so we could "go camping" while still being able to retreat indoors if the distant coyotes' song spooked us overmuch. And you can't have a fire without clustering around the fire and singing cowboy songs, which to our limited repertoires meant mostly "Happy Trails" and "Oklahoma!"
I managed not to burst into song during last night's display at OU (standing next to a streetlight rather than crouching beside a circle of embers helped), and while time and distance may have diminished my involvement slightly, it's still a pretty great show. Maybe I'll see you there next year – I'll be the guy clutching the Coke can and trying not to think about how much better it would look with a couple of Black Cats in it.
STEVE GILL is unusually tall, has a B.A. in Letters and a minor in Classics from OU, drinks a great deal of coffee and openly delights in writing, editing and catching the occasional typo for Slice – especially since his dream career (millionaire layabout in a P.G. Wodehouse novel) is notoriously difficult to break into. He's probably trying to think of a joke about pirates right now.