When I was a kid, my parents and I would always vacation in a New Jersey seaside town called Long Beach Island. My grandma owned a small condo right by the beach, offering a spectacular view of the ocean from her balcony. It wasn’t fancy or ritzy by any means, but waking up on the sound of the beach every morning all but made up for it. At sunset, when I had finished my fifth can of Sprite and last Nintendo session for the day, I’d join my mom and my grandma out on the balcony. We’d talk about nonsense, California, and mini-golf (my favorite sport as a ten-year-old) until the sun went down, when we’d retreat back inside to play a few hands of our family’s favorite past-time, Pinochle.
Nothing, however, beat 4th of July. My grandma’s condo was situated on the top level of the complex, offering a rooftop view of the town from her front door. Every Independence Day, once the sun started to set, all the neighbors in the complex would gather on the roof. The parents would make margaritas, while the kids would get made my favorite drink, a “Tappy the Penguin.” Named after my favorite childhood book character, it consisted of blended pink lemonade and Sprite. We’d play cards and swap stories until the fireworks began. From up on the roof, we got a spectacular view of Long Beach Island. The fireworks seemed to fill every inch of the sky. They were so close, I felt like I could reach out and catch the golden and red embers falling back to shore. Once the show ended, me, my brother, and my friends would go onto the beach and run around until one of our moms remembered to call us back (usually around midnight).
As we got older, my grandma began considering selling the condo. To the dismay of everyone, she did so in 2004. My family and I would occasionally stop at Long Beach Island while visiting other relatives on the east coast, but it was never the same. We went to other fireworks shows, in New York and California, but none of them could hold a flame to the dazzling spectacular of Long Beach Island.
My grandma passed away last summer. And while July 4th is considered a national holiday, not a summer goes by when I don’t think about those golden embers falling out of the sky, just beyond my reach. July brings back memories of running around the beach all day, and staying up all night watching Zorro on the old television in the living room. The smell of warm pizza and greasy cheesesteaks, and staying up until three in the morning playing a game of cards with my unyielding grandma. Rounds of mini-golf with my cousins at Mrs. T’s, two blocks down, one block left, two blocks right. Eating chocolate eclairs with my dad on the balcony, and playing Skee-ball with my mom at the local arcade. All those things, those events, those memories, helped shape who I am today.
July 4th is a day of independence. I found mine in a little town called Long Beach Island.