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Sidelines: Fireworks for my father

Published: Tuesday, July 1, 2014 5:30 a.m. CST

I’m not the biggest fireworks guy in the world. I usually go to them on the Fourth of July because it just doesn’t seem right not to go, and because of my father, who probably enjoyed them more than anyone I know.

Growing up on a small farm outside of Lee during the Great Depression, I doubt he saw many displays when he was young. They may not have even had fireworks displays back then; I really don’t know.

I can only watch fireworks for a few minutes before I get bored. I'd start looking at my watch, but in the darkness I can't see it.

The most memorable fireworks I ever saw were in downtown Chicago during a Christmas parade, of all things. Right after St. Nick showed up on the back of a firetruck, the city put on a dazzling display over the Chicago River. It was truly inspiring how the lights reflected off the tinted windows of famous landmarks like the Wrigley Building.

The worst show I ever experienced was also in Chicago. It was right after a White Sox victory about 20 years ago. We were about as far down the left field line as you could get and still be in the ball park, which is right where the fireworks are shot from. The show had no sooner started than I had something in my eye; I think residue from one of the fireworks.

I’ve seen fireworks in Kirkland, which are almost legendary in this area, at the Sycamore Speedway, and at Shabbona Lake. Seeing the lights reflecting in the water, where they seem to linger, is another amazing sight. I've often wondered what the muskies think. This year, Shabbona will shoot off fireworks Friday, July 4, while both Kirkand and the speedway will shoot off their displays Saturday, July 5. Fireworks will also be shot off at Hopkins Park in DeKalb on July 4.

For many years I watched the fireworks with my father. When he was able, we’d take lawn chairs to the school grounds. Later, when he wasn’t so mobile, we'd watch them from his back deck, where we could see them over the neighbor’s maple tree. Unfortunately, as the tree grew fuller, and the city shot them off lower and lower, we could only see about one out of 10. Rather than complaining about the ones he couldn't see, my father was delighted by those he could.

Last year, I vowed to see the city fireworks up close, in my father’s honor. As dusk rolled in, I walked from his house the eight or 10 blocks to the park where the display is held. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a flashlight with me. The darker it got, the harder it became to see. Not wanting to trip over any kids or dogs sitting on blankets with their families, I kept moving around, first to the street, then down the block, then farther and farther away. I was searching for the perfect spot, but either there were too many trees or too much traffic or the street lights got in the way or the best spots were already taken.

I gave up and returned to the house. Maybe next year, I thought, hoping it wouldn’t turn into one of those those things you never get around to doing.

Maybe the wind was blowing right that night, or maybe someone was smiling down on me. Or maybe, most likely, they were fired from a different location. But when I settled into our old seats on the back deck, I saw every one of the fireworks perfectly. (It also helped that the tree had been cut down.)

All I had to do was stay right where I was. I stayed until the end and wasn’t bored once, not even by those loud, thundering duds that rattle the neighborhood and make dogs howl and cats scramble to the basement for cover. It was a good show.

Whatever you do this weekend, I hope you like it just as much as I did last year.

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