When I was in elementary school, my parents would let me get two or three paperbacks from the Arrow Book Club every couple of months. One of the books was Follow My Leader by James Garfield. It probably didn’t sell as many copies as Bill Clinton’s book, but one of my sisters and I were really affected by it. We both decided that we would never be stupid enough to play with firecrackers, because the main character loses his sight doing just that.

Sparklers—fine. Firecrackers for some reason never appeared within our realm of Fourth of July experience. Fireworks were for the professionals. Our parents would take us to the community show every year. When we were in our 20’s, we siblings saw the Grucci display at Shea Stadium. All subsequent shows become too embarrassing until you forget about the best of the best and reset your expectations to a regular Americana experience.

Our family would enjoy our small town’s display when we lived in North Carolina. The first time I experienced regular people putting on fireworks was when the family of my daughter’s classmate had a birthday party every year for her brother, who was born on July 4. We went to a couple of their parties. I was really impressed with the quality of the show. And they always made sure we spectators were far away from where the fireworks were being launched. I would say, good, because I read Follow My Leader. They didn’t know what I was talking about, which fit right in with them never knowing what I was talking about. But I brought a nice birthday gift.

Last night, my neighbor to the left knocked on the door and said that the people who live to her left were shooting off fireworks, and why don’t we bring chairs and watch. Yay! My daughter and I traipsed onto their property, introduced ourselves to these neighbors, and watched an hour of fireworks. We weren’t that far back, and sometimes things dropped on us. I told my friend that I read Follow My Leader. She is my age and said she did, too. But things were just too festive to worry.

There was the visual, the sound, the smell. But it was that occasional hot piece of debris that just seemed to give everything that extra bit of Americana.