This is one of my favorite posts, and a good one to reflect on this July 4th. Hope everyone has a brilliantly colorful and safe holiday, and cheers to you and yours as we all enjoy Vulcan’s biggest show!
Original Post July 4, 2011
Tonight the sky over Jones Valley will light up with a fantastic fireworks display, set off from Vulcan’s perch atop Red Mountain. Friends, families and neighbors will be soaking in this once-a-year sight from vantage points throughout the metro area. Jump here to find out the recommended spots for viewing, as well as what radio station to tune in to for the lighting-of-the-sky’s official soundtrack.
No one would argue that Independence Day is an important holiday. (Just read this great historical reminder by fellow Birmingham blogger, Sheree Martin.) For most, the day involves paid leave from work, a cookout with close friends, watermelon, red-white-and-blue decor, and, obviously, fireworks. It’s the annual reminder that the year is at its halfway mark, that spring is over and football season is near. For me, the day always provokes memories of my mother’s infamous sorbet watermelon cake, sparklers, and a warm Mississippi sunset. More recently, I’m reminded of a community picnic along the banks of the Cooper River, complete with live music and firecrackers. True story: During my adolescence, I had a jumpsuit that I wore every year on this holiday. My mother handmade it for me with the eye-scorching tie-dyed fabric I had picked out on my own. I called it my “firecracker suit” and it was hideous. Wearing it, though, meant a celebration with my whole family was close by, so it was special. (Funny how clothes, like music or food (as I constantly point out), can define a moment in time.)
Last year we didn’t celebrate Independence Day. We were too busy… Busy starting the move from my in-laws’ basement to our home in Crestwood North. We’d been in Birmingham seven months, and we’d been working on this house for five of those months.
Now, if I remember correctly, on July 4, 2010, we had just finished putting the final coat of polyurethane on the floors and were beginning to move big pieces of furniture over. It was a hot day, full of hard labor. And, I suppose, in our own little way, we were commemorating our new independence in the Magic City. As lovely and comforting as it was to stay with our family during the trials and tribulations of renovating, it was time for us to start our life in Birmingham and this was an important step.
So, here we were, commuting back and forth, all day, from the 35242 to the 35212. I’m not sure how many trips we made that day, but I know we worked hard and we still had a long way to go. We’d all but forgotten that is was the Fourth of July…
We started to pack it up around 8:30p.m. We got in the truck and headed for Highway 280. Just as we rounded the curve on Highland Avenue, Red Mountain erupted before us. I vaguely remember having a conversation about stopping to watch the fireworks somewhere, but we were all so tired and Sweet Pea, barely two at the time, was already fading fast. “Next year,” we promised ourselves. We took a left and entered the highway.
Sure, I was bummed that we were missing Vulcan’s fiery, colorful celebration. Truthfully, I even felt a little jipped. The Fourth of July, after all, had always been full of such wonderful festivities and fun and this year it was just sweat, dirt and an early ending. We trucked down the highway, my pout keeping focus on the dashboard in front of me, my exhaustion turning into self-pity and disappointment. We’d made this commute so many times over the past five months, late at night, covered in dirt and sawdust and sweat. And this special day had been just another day. We were so committed to getting our house ready that taking a break meant we would fall behind. In this moment, it just all seemed so unfair.
The fireworks were getting smaller in the rearview mirror and my eyes started to drift lower and lower, my weighty lids losing the battle to stay awake.
And then, I caught a glimpse of a little girl, sitting on the hood of a parked car alongside the highway. Her face was aglow, her eyes full of amazement, her mouth wide open in a wonderful, awestruck gasp. I straightened up a little. I looked around. Both sides of the highway were saturated with lawn chairs, blankets, and truck beds packed with onlookers. I couldn’t see what they were seeing (those glorious fireworks showering Vulcan), but I could see the color and the joy in their faces, and it was spectacular.
This ocean of smiles lasted for miles… and miles… all the way to The Summit, to be exact. There were hundreds, thousands of people, young and old, who had come out to enjoy Thunder on the Mountain. This event was priceless.
I can’t describe to you the emotion I felt as we drove through the sea of onlookers, arm-in-arm, stretched back on the hoods of their family sedans, marveling at the night sky, set on fire by Vulcan himself. It was an epic moment. We couldn’t see those fireworks, but we could see how important they were to ALL of Birmingham. The reach of Vulcan’s grand show was far beyond what one might think… and we were traveling along just one stretch of road leading away from the City. How many others, I wondered, were watching from their front yards, from ball fields, from parks and peaks throughout Jones Valley? Thunder on the Mountain, as I learned that night, is not just a twenty-minute fireworks show – it’s an incredible explosion of colorful joy that connects spirits across the City. It is the ultimate celebration for Birmingham.
And this year, we’ll be watching from our driveway, a good distance from Vulcan himself but close enough to see the show. This year, our smiles will be facing that fire in the sky and we’ll be here, at our home, connected to all those others watching from all over, and we’ll start a new kind of celebration, finally. We’ll celebrate a year in this house, another memory made in the Magic City, and a lifetime of freedom.
Happy Fourth to you all, and enjoy the show!