Julia was such an even-tempered, reasonable, sweet child that it was a surprise when she had hysterics when the fireworks went off. The first time it happened, we were at Camp, in upstate NY, at the lake. We were at the docks – the swarms of evening mosquitos had tapered off, the bonfire was lit, the marshmallows were ready, and we settled back to enjoy the fireworks. When the first one shot into the air and exploded, Julia started screaming. It wasn’t a startled scream or a tantrum scream – it was a full-blown terror attack. My grandfather and I took her up the hill to the camp, then, because down on the porch it was still too loud and bright, we took her to the upstairs bunk room, where only one little window faced towards the lake. And from there, from behind the closed window, we watched the fireworks. Julia shivered and hiccoughed, but she’d calmed down enough to peek at the last one or two sparkly fountains of light. Since she was only just two, she couldn’t very well explain why she was scared, The next year, when she was three, we were at my father’s country club. It was the fourth of July and there was a huge party. There was a barbecue, and we feasted on clams and hotdogs, sausage and potato salad, ice-cream and blueberries. There was even an entertainer, and when he asked for jokes, the children lined up and went onstage to tell a joke over the microphone. The twins, 11, were too self-conscious to go, and besides, they only knew jokes in French, or the ones Matt and Amy told them. But who was that standing in line, about to climb the stairs? We hadn’t seen her – she was too tiny – but there was Julia – up on the stage, with the MC adjusting the mike for her. Alex & Sebi grabbed my arms. “What is she doing there?” said Alex. “Did you tell her to do that?” I asked, crossly. “If you’ve told her a dirty joke and she…” “No mom, we wouldn’t do that!” (They would, they just didn’t think of it in time.) The MC leaned down and patted Julia on the head. “What is your joke, young lady?” Julia smiled and yelled into the mike “What do lions eat?” There was an amused pause, while some people shouted funny answers. Then Julia bellowed “Grass!” Handed the mike back to the MC and left the stage. We knew then that her future did not include being a stand-up comedian.
We settled on the huge lawn and watched the sun set. Julia was half asleep on my father’s lap, when suddenly she heard the word “fireworks”. She sat up and said, “I want to go home. I’m scared of fireworks.” And she started to cry. I took her into the club, where one or two people were cleaning up, and there, behind a large, plate glass window, we saw a little boy (just Julia’s age) and his mother. They were sitting in front of the window. The woman saw me and said, “Oh, you must be Jennifer. I know your father. You better go outside, the fireworks are starting. I’m staying here with Isaac, he hates them.” Julia sat next to Isaac and said, “I hate them too.” Isaac patted her arm. “They can’t hurt us in here,” he said. The children looked out the window, and Julia pointed out a fire truck. “It’s a good thing that’s there. They will be able to put out the fires.” Isaac agreed. “Fireworks are very dangerous. I hope they have an ambulance too.” Like a little elderly couple in a nursing home, they sat side by side, clutching each other’s hand, as the fireworks went off (silently – the plate glass was thick.)
The next few years were repeats. At the lake, we stayed in the bunk room, peering out the small window at the fireworks. In NY, we made excuses to leave before the fireworks stated at parties, and we’d go home and I’d put loud music on so Julai didn’t hear the noise. Gradually the fear faded, and now, I’m happy to report – she goes to the fireworks display and watches (from far away, I admit – she hates crowds too). She had another meltdown at a loud restaurant once when she was about three or four – the noise and lights were too much for her and she had a sobbing fit that lasted until I took her out and we had a pizza across the street, while the twins and my mother were treated to a fantastic show. I didn’t mind. You see, when I was little, I had the same problem. I’m over fifty now, and I can face fireworks and crowds. But it took about twenty years. That’s why I’m sorry for all the dogs and children and people terrified by fireworks. I can clearly remember my terror. And you never know who or what will be frightened. My calm, staid Julia was a trembling wreck, while my two preemie twins, who were both masses of nerves and nightmares – loved them. Fudge, our hunting dog, hated them and would howl in fear, while Rusty, our nutty Lab, used to laugh and jump and try to catch them. (Yes, dogs laugh!) Auguste just ignores them, and he ignores crowds too. We take him to the riverside every year to watch the fireworks. He sits at my feet and yawns. You just never know. But it’s 4th of July, and I’m sending lots of love to the USA – have a wonderful day, and hand out earplugs.