When I was growing up, there was never, ever any question about what my mom and I would be doing on the Fourth of July.  Watching the fireworks together was a tradition, and it goes back as far as I can remember.  My mom loved fireworks more than almost anything else I can think of.  She would pack a picnic, our favorite picnic blanket, and a couple of folding chairs, and we’d go to Reseda Park, or sometimes Balboa Park, and stake out a spot from which to join the thousands of other revelers in uttering oohs and ahhs.

We did that every year, all through the 60’s and halfway through the 70’s, until I was fifteen or sixteen, at which point I decided, as teens do, that I was too busy socially, and too cool, to spend the 4th with my mom.  Interestingly enough, I have no recollection at all of what I did instead during those years.

Which makes it fairly easy to fast-forward though them.  Not even a fast-forward.  More like a warp.

But of the mid-80’s through the 90’s, my memories are clear.  Now a mom myself, I would pack up my three boys and head down to San Diego, where my mom now lived in a beautiful townhome.  The morning of the 4th would find the five of us parked in folding chairs on Mira Mesa Blvd to watch the Independence Day parade—small-town parading at its best, really, with homemade floats festooned with bunting and paper streamers, moms pushing strollers, middle-school marching bands, uniformed Cub Scouts on bicycles waving flags, and local fire and police vehicles with lights flashing and sirens blaring—and then we’d go back to Mom’s house to nap or swim.

And then, as evening approached, we’d head for the park to stake out a spot, loaded as in earlier years with folding chairs and our favorite picnic blanket, but now also armed with a portable barbecue, hot dogs and hamburgers, and s’mores fixings.  The boys would play Frisbee or baseball while Mom and I tended to the feast, and afterwards, we’d toast marshmallows until it got too dark to see.  And that that point, a reverent hush would fall over the whole park as everyone positioned themselves facing West for the best view of the pyrotechnics.

Oooooh.  Ahhhhhh.

Those were good years.

I moved to Wisconsin in 2000, and Mom followed in 2002.  The boys by then had reached that teenage stage I remember so well—too socially busy and too cool to spend the Fourth of July with Mom and Grandma.  But Mom and Grandma didn’t sit at home on the Fourth of July.  Oh no.

For the first couple of years after she moved here, I’d pick her up after dinner, drive through Culver’s to get a sundae, and unload our folding chairs in the Senior Center parking lot, which afforded a pretty good view of the fireworks over Carson Park.  But more and more people showed up there every year with larger and larger fireworks of their own, and when an errant bottle rocket zipped past right under our noses one year, we decided it was time to find a new spot.

In her 80’s now and not so mobile anymore, Mom and I developed a new tradition for the rest of the 2000’s: We’d still drive through Culver’s and get a sundae (she’d get a Turtle and I’d get a Caramel Cashew), but then instead of setting up folding chairs, I’d park in a spot with a good view of the fireworks and we’d just watch them from the car.

Our quest for the best viewing spot took us to a new parking place each year, but to be honest, none of those spots was ever quite what we’d been hoping for.  Throughout the year, as I drove through town, I’d say to myself—“Hmm, this looks like a good spot for the fireworks.”  And come the next July, we’d check that one out.

I don’t think my mom ever knew how much these evenings meant to me.

My mom passed away in 2010, the day after Christmas.  We had discussed potential resting places beforehand, but hadn’t settled on anything before she became too ill to care.

It was up to me.

I chose a spot at Lakeview Cemetery, across Half Moon Lake from Carson Park, which is the home base of the City of Eau Claire’s annual fireworks display.  I explained my purpose to the cemetery manager, and the two of us walked all over the cemetery in search of a spot with the very best view.

We found a great spot.

So now there’s a new twist on the old tradition.  My eldest son lives in California now, but my two younger boys, now beyond the “too cool” stage, will sit with me tonight at my mom’s grave as the fireworks rise above the trees and explode over the lake in glittering showers.

It’s a fabulous view.  The best.

Oooooh.  Ahhhhhh.

I will never stop watching fireworks with my mom.