There are many things I really like about the Fourth of July. There’s picnicking with friends; potluck barbecues; decorating with flags without feeling like a Republican; and Mama woodchuck finally kicking her babies out of the den, decreasing woodchuck damage to about half. But my favorite thing is sparklers.
Sparklers have many advantages over other types of fireworks. For one thing, they are quiet: a little hiss and pop, but nothing to knock down the tiny hairs inside your inner ear. For another, you can hold them right in your hand while they are lit and sparkling, which means you can write your name in the air with them, or conduct phantom symphonies, or illustrate your best dance moves. And because they are so nearby instead of expoding high in the air, you can deploy them before dark. In Michigan, where the 4th of July sky does not go dark until ten o’clock at night, this makes it possible for children to wield them before cranky time sets in.
A lawn full of children with sparklers is a joyous sight, rather like having an entire corps de ballet of lightning bugs performing for you. A small child who has never had one before is likely to be hesitant or fearful of the sparkler at first, may take it tentatively, with one eye on the water bucket where the burnt-out sparkler sticks are collected, having been reassured the sparkler can be discarded there at any time. But when the bright, ecstatic, symmetrical arrays of glittering starpoints burst improbably from the plain grey stick now in the child’s control, delight overcomes doubt. Confidence is born. Dancing happens. Another name is written on the coming night; another masterpiece of unheard music is conducted. And when it burns out another laughing child runs to the bucket, drops in the spent stick to the sound of a deeply satisfying hissssss, smiles up at me, and asks, can I have another?