The distant radio boomed over a hundred different speakers, all too far away to distinguish the specifics of the songs except in memory. I could easily recognize a few notes from “God Bless America” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “America the Beautiful”, and I knew that march by Sousa. But I couldn’t quite time the music with the fireworks. We should have brought our own radio.
But the fireworks were beautiful nonetheless.
After spending three days with my family at a reunion in lovely Island Park, Idaho, a few random assortments of my family members had made it here, to this particular hilltop, where we were watching the fireworks show in Idaho Falls, dubbed the best fireworks show in the west in all of the advertisements.
My children were up way past their bedtimes, particularly given their off-routine meal times and naptimes while we were camping. My four-year-old (soon to be five), A, was curled up in my lap, and I was whispering in his ear about the various shapes and colors of the fireworks to keep him engaged and from falling asleep. “Ooh, look at that curly one. See those sparkly ones? How many colors can you count in that one?”
My seven year old, J, was on the lap of my sister, Kathy, who was tickling his back and he nestled in to her. I spoke to him once in a while to make sure he was still awake. They could go from exhausted and ready to fall asleep to wide awake and skipping down the road in seconds flat, but I wanted to make sure that not only did they enjoy the fireworks, but that they would be ready for bed when we got back to the hotel, right when I was ready for bed; falling asleep now would mean either being up half the night or waking up at five in the morning, and I dreaded both of those possibilities.
Kathy’s husband sat next to her, and her two teenage children sat on a blanket near her feet. A mother of six, with her oldest children preparing to marry, Kathy has always been one of my favorite people. Stalwart and giving and wonderful and hilarious. I watched her hand moving on my son’s back and viewed her face, firework light reflecting on it, and realized how grateful for her I am.
My eyes shifted to a niece, turning 21 soon, and her younger brother, now 16, children of my beloved sister, Kara. These two have had rough starts and a lot of hills and valleys along the way. I see them now and wonder what their futures hold. I’m tightly bonded to these two, in ways that are difficult to understand. We have a kinship, and they have a strong hold on my heart. They are both powerful forces for good in this world.
I look back over to my sister, Susan, and see her looking at my children each in turn before she looks back over to the displays in the sky. She loves them like a parent, and spends time and energy and effort in spending time with them. It’s no wonder she is their favorite. With no children of her own, she has spent the last seven years loving my children fiercely. She makes them feel special, makes them laugh, cuddles them to sleep and cuddles them awake. I whisper to A that he should go sit on her lap for a bit, and he does, gladly.
My eyes turn back to the exploding colors on the horizon and I settle back in to my chair, my arms curled around my abdomen for warmth. I can feel the lone mosquito bite on the knuckle of one thumb, and the sting on my palm where I had pressed against a shark thistle plant on accident a bit before. My back aches slightly and I adjust my posture.
As I listen to the distant music, I reflect on this weekend and my time with family. I’m so often on my own, it’s always a strange experience to relive my origins. And I realize that this time, five years after my coming out of the closet, there was no drama or struggle or confusion about me being gay. No one pulled me aside to tell me that being gay was gross, or that they supported me no matter what, or if I was still going to be Mormon, or if I was having any problems with the family for being gay.
Instead, I had been among my relatives, just me, Chad, and his two sons. A dad parenting his children, making conversation with cousins, laughing around the fire with sisters, standing in line at the buffet table in the woods behind uncles and aunts. Just part of the family.
And this sudden realization suddenly made me more grateful than anything else.
The fireworks built up in the grand finale, a powerful conclusion with the sky lighting up in sound and color, deep resonant booms and bright cascading flashes of yellow and gold and red and orange. The fireworks ended, the music went quiet, the human voices picked up as they began gathering their things and heading toward their cars, but my eyes stayed on the sky, at the shapes of the fireworks still there in smoke on the horizon, slowly spreading and expanding against the black until they would disappear.
And as I gathered my children into my arms, I realized, not everything is fireworks. Sometimes it’s just the smoke and echo that remains afterwards, until that, too, fades.