When I went away to college my freshman year, there were two other freshmen that year who called Cedar Rapids, Iowa home. One of them was in my orientation group. The first time my orientation group got together, we sat in a circle and under the direction given by our leader, took turns sharing one highlight from our summer. Most people talked about vacations. My Cedar Rapidian friend across the circle from me said the top highlight from her summer was the Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Cedar Rapids.
I have to say, I share her sentiment. For me, fireworks in Cedar Rapids are the one thing that my hometown does better than anywhere else I’ve lived. Practically everyone in the city starts to settle around May’s Island sometime during the hot afternoon. It is an afternoon of lazy walking around and seeing everyone you wanted (or didn’t want) to see, lounging in canvas lawn chairs on the bank of the river, waiting for the sun to set, drinking strawberry slushies, listening to local musicians perform… for a high schooler, it was a very social event!
I’ve only been back to celebrate the Fourth in Cedar Rapids once in the past seven years… a reality that I mourn every Fourth of July! And, the one time that I returned to CR for Independence Day was in 2008… the year I returned home from living abroad in a developing African nation to a home town which ironically looked more like the developing world in the aftermath of a horrendous flood. No fireworks for Cedar Rapids in 2008, or 2009 for that matter.
In 2008, Brandon and I were in Cedar Rapids for a few days in the beginning of July. We took a bike ride around downtown and saw deserted streets filled with rows of piled rubbish. One of the weirdest images for me was riding past Smulekoff’s department store with a line of broken refrigerators lining up down the sidewalk and around the corner, like old battered and hopeless people waiting to be admitted into a shelter of some sort. Water lines higher than first story ceilings were common on most buildings and homes. Windows were smashed and everything was ruined. Like I said, it was ironic to return home to this. We stayed to help muck out a few houses and demolish plaster walls, we saw fireworks in Anamosa that year, and then we were on our way to move into our new home in Minnesota.
This year was the first year that Cedar Rapids’ Freedom Festival was able to put on their normal fireworks display on May’s Island since the flood… and this year was even threatened to get rained out! In fact, it nearly did. Around 7 pm, the rain poured quite powerfully but let up just enough to encourage the brave to return to return. At 10 pm, the music started with the first few beautiful booms hitting the appropriate beats… yes that’s correct, in Cedar Rapids, our fireworks are coordinated and synched to a medley of patriotic songs (I love it, it’s just too spectacular to be cheesy!) and just as the finale was wrapping up, the first little drops started to plop down on us again. Perfect timing : ) It’s good to be home, especially when your home is feeling better.