An Old-Fashioned Fourth of July in Waldport

As the sun sinks through a cascade of pink and orange clouds toward the sparkling ocean, the crowds pack the beach in Waldport, Oregon. The water of Alsea Bay laps ever closer to their blankets and camp chairs while blond blue-eyed children covered with sand from filthy face to chubby toes eat cotton candy and hot dogs and ask for the hundredth time, “When will the fireworks start?” “When it gets dark,” their parents answer, praying that it will be soon.
Meanwhile local teens and young adults who have known each other since they were little eat hot dogs from the hot dog cart, promenade along the beach and the parking lot or lean against their old cars that barely run. They compare tattoos and bright-colored fingernails, share pictures on their cell phones, and count the hours till they have to go back to work bagging groceries, pumping gas, or selling ice cream cones.
On the parking lot above the fray, sheltered against my friend Tim’s insurance office, we grownups sit in our folding chairs, wrapped in red, white and blue sweatshirts and blankets as the warm day cools into a typical coastal chill. We have eaten hamburgers, pasta salad, deviled eggs and Oreo cookies, drunk soda pop and water, played cards, sung songs, and talked for hours. Now we wait for the fireworks.
Around us, people light up the fireworks purchased in the local stands. Two girls pass waving sparklers. A firecracker pops. A roman candle sizzles and sends up red and yellow shoots of fire. The sky darkens.
Finally the show begins with a boom out over the bay. One after another, then two, three, four, ten at a time, the fireworks light up the sky in gold, green, red, purple and white, some shaped like flowers, others like clouds or stars or rings. Some feel as if they’re coming right toward us. Some linger and slowly fade. Some sizzle or pop or whistle. It goes on and on. Smoke hovers over the quiet ripples of blue-black water. Couples lean against each other, hold hands, and kiss. Mothers cuddle their little ones. “Good one,” says a deep-voiced teen.
I think of all the fireworks I’ve seen in my life, where I was, who I was with. Disneyland. Great America. Giants stadium. Santa Clara County Fair. Over the buildings from my front lawn. My honeymoon. I sigh, missing my husband, but not missing the big-city displays with their crowds and traffic. I have seen bigger, more exciting shows, the fireworks matched to music as I sat in stadiums with thousands of people, but this small-town gathering of friends feels like Fourth of July should feel, even if it happens on July 3. It feels like home.
The holiday festivities continue today with fireworks, farmers markets, barbecues, concerts and more in Yachats, Newport, Depoe Bay, and Lincoln City and Toledo, and we have another sunny day to enjoy it. Have a wonderful Fourth of July, my friends.
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