And so this week’s moment of happiness despite the news.

Last Sunday, I sat in a field at Waukesha’s Expo Center, waiting for the fireworks to begin. I was surrounded by my husband, my two sons, my daughter, my daughter-in-law, and my granddaughter. We ate 4th of July cupcakes and we chatted as the sun went down and it grew darker and darker.

My family has attended the fireworks in Waukesha for decades, going back to when they were done at the difficult-to-park Lowell Park, and now, at the much easier Expo Center. When I reminded my oldest son about meeting there this year, he shouted, “I want the twirly thing that never works!”

For years and years, there was a ground firework that looked like a stick. When it was lit, the top part would twirl, making a whooping sound, and sending off sparks of red, white and blue. But it would only go for a few seconds before it would fizzle out. It would be lit again, spark and whoop, fizzle. Over and over, before they finally gave up. My family would roll with laughter. It was a failure that was such a favorite. But it hasn’t appeared for years now.

As we waited, we talked of other times at the fireworks show. The year that the wind brought the ashes down on the crowd and a few got into my oldest daughter’s hair, freaking her out and creating what seems to be a lifelong hatred of fireworks shows. She lives in Louisiana now, and I doubt that she and her husband attended any Fourth of July festivities. The time we were in a drought, but the fireworks were attempted anyway. After starting two brush fires, grinding the show to a halt, but promptly put out by our fire department, the evening ended early, well before the finale, and we all went home to watch fireworks on television from some place that wasn’t drought-y. And the times of strange and wonderful comments from the crowd. The usual “ooooh!” and “aaaaah”, of course, but we were also treated to a repeated high-toned “Prettyyyyyy!” one year. And on another year, the incomprehensible, “I think it looks like Paris upside down!”

Despite the lack of the ever-failing twirligig, we always found a reason to laugh. This year was no different. Soon after the fireworks started, from behind us, we heard, “The atmospheric winds from high above must be very strong this year.” This was repeated several times throughout the show.

This year, of course, was different because of the return to familiarity. The pandemic killed the fireworks show last year, and family get-togethers.

But this year, here we were. Safe. Sound. Intact. Even though my daughter in Louisiana wasn’t sitting with us, I knew she and her husband were just fine.

It’s part of my routine to bring manuscripts to read while waiting for the fireworks to begin. Getting my work done has always been uppermost in my mind, and a couple hours out of the ordinary in my schedule could mean disaster in terms of deadlines and having time to sleep. This year was no different. I carried along my folder of manuscripts, got settled in my chair, and opened it to the first one.

And that’s when I looked around. I saw my granddaughter, no longer a toddler, but a striking 8-year old, and yet still giggling as she sat between my son and my daughter. My youngest daughter, no longer a kid, but soon to turn 21-years old. My boys, the one who wished for the twirligig, now 37 years old and a husband and father, and the other, 35 years old, no longer just eating the cupcakes, but bringing them from the bakery he manages. My daughter-in-law, as solidly a part of our family as if she’d been there since birth.

And none of us able to get together like this last year.

I closed my folder and set it on the ground. And then I joined the others in laughing at those atmospheric winds from high above.

The pandemic, as awful as it was, and continues to be, has taught us a lot.

And yes, that helps. Despite. Anyway.

The only photo I took of the fireworks show, right at the beginning. I was just too busy having fun!

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