Firecrackers, Fireworks, And Happy Anniversaries

unexpected engagement anniversary fireworks

Firecrackers, Fireworks, And Happy Anniversaries

“People keep asking me that,” our surprisingly surprised, 20-something waiter answers with a laugh. He’s gazing off in thought now, as if the answers are somewhere hidden in his debatably fashionable but clearly stylized bangs. These are the things you notice in unexpected pauses.

It’s about 8:30pm on the 4th of July.

All we’d wanted to know was if there were fireworks nearby.

It wasn’t a trick question, just a curious one. We’re in a hotel-attached bar/restaurant in West Virginia. We didn’t need to see fireworks. We hadn’t even planned on it. But there was enough time to find some if there were some to be found, and fireworks are always fun.

Waiter-boy returned from his thoughts to say, “I think a lot of the big shows might have happened already, or maybe they’re this weekend? But a lot of people, like just people in the towns around here, they just shoot off their own stuff and you can drive around and watch them almost blow themselves up. They get some pretty big ones too. That’s what I did last night. And probably what I’ll do this weekend. I don’t know about any big shows that you could, like, walk to or see from here. I guess I could ask around?”

“That’d be cool. Thanks man, we appreciate it,” I tell him, and I do it genuinely and encouragingly and 100% skeptically that he’ll ever return with an answer. It’s OK. It’s fine. It really is.

Because I can’t even say the expectations were low. The expectations were, in fact, just to find a bar. Not a low one, but a local one, and hey, we’d already succeeded. It had cold beer, good burgers, and even if these people were short on firework tips, what mattered most was that this bar was short on walking distance back to our room.

Waiter-boy wanders off and I turn to my wife, across from me in our wood paneled, bright-red patent leather booth, and say, “So, this West Virginia place, it has some characters.”

“Yes, yes they do,” she agrees. She cracks a smile. Laughs work wonders.

We’re in a funny little location, straight off a rural highway where you can mostly go 60mph but there’s also occasional traffic lights, connected side streets (almost never with traffic lights), and a very busy local Walmart lot that suggests if traffic ever truly got heavy, the natural limitations of the speed limit would hopefully self-reinforce before complete pandemonium ensued.

It probably wouldn’t. But the lights and speed limit signs are a nice gesture. If you live here, meaning you don’t die in a car accident or blow yourself up with an M80, it’s because you’ve figured something out. I respect that. A cracked system can still function just fine.

The primary reason for the trip is to see an old friend of my wife’s. Since the last time they got together, she got married, her and her husband had a baby, my wife and her traded a lot of text messages about “life!” and now, with the baby almost ONE, we are finally visiting.

Saying “It’s been too long” is one thing. Doing something about it is another. We are choosing the latter.

The secondary primary reason for the trip is we got engaged just under a year ago. It’s an engagementaversary. Does Hallmark own that? I’m scared to look. But they probably do.

Since friends with 1-year-olds don’t tend to be as into hanging out in motel dive bars with dodgy waiters, we’re enjoying the night together.

And more than anything - we both love this kind of a thing. A road trip. A new place that feels familiar but is totally unfamiliar. With or without the formal fireworks. We can always make our own entertainment, we’re not worried.

We “get” the people in the towns like this, almost blowing themselves up for a good time. Trips like this are excuses to be amongst them. Not too close, but nearby.

Seeing them be connected makes us feel connected. It’s that saying something versus doing something thing again. You’ve got to commit sometimes. Without pretension. With conviction.

You can find it in small towns and big cities alike. But you have to seek it out. It’s the small relationships that you want to find, that you want to observe working. Which isn’t to say you’ll find them working well, but just that you’ll find the situation not completely or catastrophically or too irreparably falling apart to cease functioning altogether.

Small groups can get cracked and still get the work done. My wife and I have our own separate fascinations with this. We don’t talk about seeking it out, exactly, but we don’t have to. It’s a common factor in the places we both look at and say, “Oh that looks fun.”

“You know he’s not going to ask around, right?” my wife says. “Oh, I’ll be surprised if he even remembers our check,” I say. We both laugh again. “Characters,” she says. I smile and nod.

We eventually do get the check, and after never hearing mention of the fireworks again from waiter-boy, we head outside to walk aback to our room. It’s immediately obvious that the parking lot’s gotten a lot got busier since we went into the restaurant.

“What are they doing,” we both ask. Not with words. With a look. Close relationships can speak in looks. We both look at each other to ask, then we both look around to find an answer.

It hits our ears before it hits our eyes.

The fireworks. Some from the big shows. Some from the neighborhood parties, all down below us.

We walked outside just in time. Because our hotel was at the top of the hill, we could see for miles. And because we could see for miles, we could see all the towns and side streets and all the celebrations, blowing stuff up in the sky, making the best of making a holiday work.

“We found the fireworks,” I tell my wife as I take her hand and lead her over to a grassy patch. “Let’s sit and watch. There must be 5 different official shows and 15 unofficial ones we can see from here.” “Wow,” we both say, but only with a look.

I proposed to her on the 6th. We were a few days early. But this moment just worked itself out for a celebration. Imperfectly perfect. Small and special. We never had to make it work, we just had to commit to doing the work. I tell her I love her and how it was the best decision I ever made. “Me too,” she says, with words and not just a look this time.

We’re here with multiple purposes. But all those purposes don’t take away from this moment. We take a picture to remember it, and I remind her to make sure her ring is in it like in the engagement photo we took almost a year ago.

The sun set. The bombs burst in the air. The families and children and older couples in the parking lot, they watched it all with each other, and they watched it all with us.

We start our walk back all over again as the official shows finalize their finales. On the way back through the lot we pass a pickup truck facing away from the skyline and towards the hotel. I whisper to my wife, “Don’t look now, but our waiter and one of the other guys from the bar, they’re in that pickup truck rolling a joint.”

“But the truck’s not even facing the fireworks,” my wife turns back to look, bemused, laughing.

“It makes complete sense,” I say. “It couldn’t be any other way.” We laugh, maybe a little too loudly, and walk back to our room.

We’ve got a busy day tomorrow. We’ve got friends and a baby to visit. I’ve got John Denver stuck in my head and “almost heaven” makes the most sense it’s ever made to me in this moment.

The smallest relationships we keep are the biggest relationships in our lives.

It’s a choice we make to form them and it’s a choice we make to keep them. The people, the cracks, the work. The firecrackers and the fireworks.

Celebrate the anniversaries. Do things that deserve return celebrations. Do them without pretension, and do them with conviction. They work for a reason. They survive for a reason.