By Tim Hayes
As with any true-blue American, our family loves to watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July. Just as John Adams wanted us to.
In a letter to his wife, Abigail, on the eve of signing the Declaration of Independence, July 3, 1776, he wrote that the occasion should be commemorated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
Anyway, the first commemorative Independence Day fireworks were set off a year later in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777, and we’ve been booming and sparkling and sizzling and oohing and ahhing merrily along ever since.
In our little corner of the world, we’re blessed with fireworks from two separate sources – two golf courses not far away that each tries to outdo the other, creating a bonanza of bombast every Independence Day evening. The best place to catch the majority of both displays turned out to be the huge parking lot behind our local high school.
So around 8:30 or so, we’d load up the obligatory suburban-family model powder-blue Chrysler Town & Country minivan, complete with kids, juice boxes, and all of the other effluvia required with carting three grade-schoolers anywhere, and head up to the high school. Naturally, other families had scouted the same perch, so you had some jockeying for position, not wanting to block anybody else’s view but still staking the best claim for your clan at the same time. Papa Bear stuff, you understand.
One memorable year, we landed an especially prime spot. The hatch could be opened, the kids could sit on the back ledge of the car to sip and snack during the show. We even had some additional ambient light from one of the tall, thin, metal light stands that illuminated the parking lot, about five feet from the minivan.
Dusk overtook the nighttime summer sky, and everyone started to get itchy for the fireworks to begin. That’s when I first noticed a strange sound. A faint squeaking noise.
Could the engine still be running? No, the car was turned off and no sound came from under the hood. Were the kids doing something with their juice box straws? Nope. How about those other families all around us? Some of those kids were real whackadoodles. But no, that wasn’t it either. What the heck was that sound? And where was it coming from?
Then I looked up.
Clouds of bats swarmed around the lights atop those poles, one of which stood just feet from our Town & Country. Now, the creepy critters flew about some 30 feet above us, but how long would it take a freaking bat to cover 30 feet? About one second, right? Not the most comforting thought.
Total darkness now blanketed the horizon, so I decided to not share my discovery, hoping that once the booms and blasts started, that cloud of winged rats would find some other place to hang out. Little did I appreciate how spectacularly correct that prediction would become.
At last, the first fireworks started. One over here, another from the alternate golf course. Intermittent and sporadic, as each show built up momentum. Before long, the colorful explosions against the night sky became more regular, more thunderous, the powerful sound waves bouncing through the atmosphere.
And the bats responded in turn, breaking off from their close clusters 30 feet up, and now flying in wider circles, getting steadily closer to the ground. And to all of the revelers parked across that asphalt.
Within seconds, my little secret was out of the bag, with kids shrieking, moms shouting, dads closing up minivan hatchbacks and starting up motors all over that parking lot. It looked like the closing scene of “Animal House” when the parade goes haywire.
We got back home and made do with the view from our own backyard. Bat-free and happy. But for a few moments up at the high school, old John Adams would have loved it.
It had been a hell of a shew.
Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes