When in the course of human events, the calendar turns to high summer, and sporadic explosions fill the air, then suffer folk to wax nostalgaic about their youth, or small towns, or the war of 1812. It’s not my favorite holiday, but with July come fireworks and festivals and a break from routines or traffic. This week gives us an excuse to gather in towns and cities and main streets across America with so many strangers. No matter where you find yourself, it can be a very urban experience.
The appeal of fireworks is mysteriously simple. Surely this is the least complex form of human entertainment. You don’t have to “explain” fireworks to anyone like you explain Shakespeare or hip-hop or Jasper Johns. There’s nothing to “get,” only explosions, as large and loud as possible, without language or meaning. For that reason, just about everybody who does’t have PTSD can enjoy them. For me, military connotations aside, fireworks are a democratic kind of entertainment, available to everyone, crossing cultural boundaries with their brute simplicity.
As a kid, our family would often go on vacation around this time of year. I’ve seen fireworks in towns from coast to coast, but growing up we ended up becoming regulars of the fireworks display in Spring Valley, Wisconsin, a small town located at the base of the midwest’s largest earthen dam (holding back the Eau Galle resevoir). Spring Valley has a great little main street and a charming community theater, and at night on the 4th of July, the whole town gathers on the wide high school football field at the base of the dam. Everybody comes to watch as the town’s fireworks are shot from the top of the ridge. I’m sure I would have hated growing up there, but the Spring Valley 4th of July always seemed to me the epitome of collective civics.
Small town festivals, too, share this appeal. All over Minnesota, and in every neighborhood, people take their main streets for a day and watch each other march by, an seemingly endless host of political candidates, weird groups, and petroleum-fueled corporate appeals.
This week let’s pause to remember a few of those moments, from whenever or wherever they come. Sit back in your lawn chair and enjoy Streets.mn’s first ever Nostalgically Saturated Freedom Week (NSFW).
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