As a child growing up in Estes Park, living in a house next to the fairgrounds I had a perfect stage for enjoying the many events taking place there. My favorite event was the 4th of July, and the fireworks launched over Lake Estes.

During my girlhood, the sequence of events at our house on the 4th of July was quite predictable. The day would begin with a bumper-to-bumper cavalcade of cars progressing slowly down Pole Hill, across Lake Estes, and into downtown Estes Park. Soon after, town employees and volunteers began setting up the fireworks. And my family and I began preparing to host a late afternoon picnic in the backyard, where guests would subsequently watch fireworks first over the lake then from the patio.

Preparation for the picnic and fireworks consisted of many discreet tasks. First up, Dad and my sisters would rope off a large section of the street in front of the house thus guaranteeing our picnickers a convenient place to park. While that was happening, Mom, who was responsible for all the food and beverages, hustled off to Brodie’s Grocery for some last minute, must have items. And me, you ask? Well, I guarded the private stash of fireworks that Dad had accumulated during the past year to set off later that night. Feeling quite empowered and wanting to remove any doubt about there being enough snap, crackle and pop to duly impress our guests, I compulsively inventoried the stash throughout the day. In between inspections, I helped clean the lawn furniture, water down the yard and put blankets outside so guests could stay warm after dark. When all tasks were completed, Mom declared, “We’re ready.” No sooner than those words had left her lips, people miraculously began appearing. Coming from far and wide, they filled up the backyard. With not an inch of space to spare, they enthusiastically partook of barbequed meats, potato salad, red Jell-O and strawberry-rhubarb pie.

When the feast began to subside, just before darkness fell, I asked Dad for permission to go to the fairgrounds. Once I got there, I laid down in the field, on the moist grass, with my dog Shasta at my side, waiting for the music in the Arabian horseshow arena to end, the lights to go down, and fireworks display to begin. With canopy after canopy of color falling earthward, I oohed and aahed and hugged Shasta to keep warm.

Public fireworks complete, I ran home to enjoy the private fireworks planned in our backyard for the picnickers who’d been watching the town’s fireworks from there. Confident my inventories were accurate and fireworks sufficient, I was able to enjoy writing my name and drawing glowing pictures in the air with sparklers while watching Roman candles pump colored fire into the air from our concrete patio. For a grand finale of sorts, Dad lined up pop bottle rockets. While he did that, to be safe, we went into the house, where, as Dad simultaneously lit the line of fuses with a blow torch, we watched wide-eyed from the kitchen windows and cheered and laughed as Dad ducked and ran for cover when dozens of rockets hissed skyward. The day ended with us kids sipping on cups of hot chocolate to warm up, while the adults had a sip of something stronger.

Looking back, I now understand that the bumper-to-bumper string of cars that came to Estes Park on a 4th of July many years ago was about much more than food, fun and fireworks. It was also about families, livelihoods, traditions and the form of government that make each possible. It’s also about taking time each year on the fourth day of July, to celebrate the liberty and freedom, that started as a spark when, in 1776, the founders of this nation declared themselves to be independent. That memory now burns brightly in the hearts of all Americans. In this spirit, I pray the fireworks launched over Lake Estes of this 4th of July will serve as a spark of hope and pride for all who see them.

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