How many places do you know that shoot off fireworks in August? Growing up, I never questioned it; it was just part of summer life in Oak Bluffs. It wasn't until I grew up that I understood fireworks meant special occasions: New Year's, the Fourth of July and big celebrations.
For some reason, the Oak Bluffs Volunteer Fire Department would arrange for fireworks every August, toward the end of the month. My Dad always said that it was to help draw tourists in, for the end of summer. For my friends and I, it had a lot of pluses. First off, as they shot them off down at Ocean Park, we could easily walk down there. Then there was the bandstand. It looked like a simple little gazebo, and the local band would play a bunch of old-fashion music. The music from the "Good Old Days." Today, the band would play 50s and 60s oldies, but, in those days, it was music from the 20s and 30s.
My friends and I would run and run and run around the bandstand, while the band played. Looking back, I have to wonder: why were we running? I can also see why our parents encouraged it - it got all us rug rats good and tired!
Another plus was closeness of the fireworks. With the Edgartown fireworks, the ones that went off on the Fourth of July, they were set off across the harbor on Chappaquiddick Island. They were also the standard ones: the skyrockets that went boom and made big colorful patterns in the sky. Well, the Oak Bluffs fireworks were set off right at the edge of the water, and along the sidewalk, across the street from the park. The show also featured a bunch of the old-fashion pinwheels and signs, and they usually had one that would light up in the shape of a fireman - complete with helmet.
Now, of course, when I was a teenager, I stopped going. After all, this was silliness intended for little kids. Why would I want to go see such a thing?
Then came the summer of 1991, and I took my, then girlfriend, Jo Ann to see the island. As it turned out, our last night there coincided with the fireworks, and we decided to go. Actually, we had a real incentive to go - there was virtually nothing else to do! The reason for that was quite simple: Hurricane Bob had torn through the island only a few days before; power lines were a tangle, most trees reduced to kindling and the harbours looked like a jumble of toy boats. Most of the island was still without power, ice was in short supply, only a few gas stations were working, and those restaurants that managed to open had very limited fare to offer.
Going to the fireworks was the perfect means of easing the boredom, and sharing yet another aspect of my childhood with her. We hiked on down the hill, walked into town, to have dinner at one of those restaurants - just a pizza. After that, it was off to the park. After spreading a blanket on the grass, we sat down and tried to get warm. For some reason, it was bitterly cold that evening; the weatherman had said to expect a bit of odd weather - Bob had sent the weather patterns on their ear. I went to get Jo a sweater shirt - they were selling them with all manner of Bob-themed messages on them.
Ah yes, the entrepreneurial spirit of American businesses could not be broken! Over at the movie theater - still closed due to roof damages - they had a spray painted sign up - Coming Soon: "What About Bob?" and "Gone with the Wind". It seemed the storm hadn't destroyed our sense of humor.
Returning to her with a "I Survived Hurricane Bob" sweat shirt, she told me that a reporter for the Vineyard Gazette had come by and interviewed her about what the fireworks meant to her. She told him, quite honestly - nothing, it was her first time there. She did tell him about me, and some of my history connected with the island. She managed to earn herself a few lines in the next issue of the newspaper. Once again, a storm could not stop the Gazette from getting to press.
We sat there, wrapped in each others arms and enjoyed the fireworks. Like so much of that first visit, it was all new to Jo Ann, and that made it all the more special for me.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
Click above to tell a friend about this article.