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We raced down the subway steps with only ten minutes to spare. We had to catch a train to City Hall, and then walk to the Ben Franklin Parkway, where we were meeting family for the fireworks display.
I couldn’t believe my husband actually agreed to go. The only other time we had gone to see fireworks there had been such a disappointment. It happened in 2011—it was our first 4th of July in Philly after having lived away for more than 20 years while Bill served in the military. We got to the parkway early, staked out a spot under a tree, sat on a blanket, and waited for the festivities to begin. It got crowded quickly; a sea of people streamed by, a few of them accidentally kicking us where we sat on the ground. Loud music played: none of it patriotic—most of it not even family-friendly. When the National Anthem played, Bill and I stood. (To me, the anthem stands for sacrifice, so I stand for the anthem . . . with my hand on my heart.) At first it seemed that no one else noticed it was playing—until some people made fun of us for standing to honor it. Bill and I were disheartened to say the least. When some teenagers began throwing lighted firecrackers at people sitting on the ground, we decided it was time to go. The next day we learned that there had been a lot of unrest in the city the night before—including a huge brawl in the subway concourse shortly after we passed through on our way home. We were glad to have missed it.
We wouldn’t have considered risking a repeat of that night, but my niece Dana and her family were in town. We hadn’t seen them in a very long time and this was our only chance to get together with them. My daughter Alexis had already met up with them and texted me to say where they were.
So into town we went.
As we hurried up the subway steps, we braced ourselves for what the mood in Center City might be like. But when we stepped out into the steamy night, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the city felt peaceful. There were a lot of people on the street, but everyone was being polite. We were able to weave our way through the crowd easily. As we rounded the corner onto the Parkway, the fireworks began. We were still far enough away from the main event that we couldn’t hear any music playing. We neared a group of college-aged girls and heard one of them say, “We need music!” She began singing God Bless America, and the rest of the girls joined in. I saw Bill turn toward their group with a huge smile on his face. I waved and yelled, “Thank you!” as we rushed by.
We continued down the Parkway toward the Franklin Institute, where my daughter said they’d be. I texted her when we got there, and we found each other easily. My niece saw me before I saw her, and she threw her arms around me. Hugging her there in the middle of the street felt so good. We exchanged quick hugs with the rest of the family—I had to comment on how much my great-niece and great-nephew had grown since the last time I saw them. (That’s what great-aunts do!) Then we all turned back toward the show.
After the finale, Dana and her husband commented on how much better the fireworks were than any they’d seen at home in Florida; their children agreed. I’ve gotten used to being here where things like fireworks are bigger and better; it was nice to be reminded of the benefits of living in a big city.
We followed the throng of people leaving the Parkway. A man with a trumpet was playing America the Beautiful. I ran over to him and put a dollar in his trumpet case. He finished that song and began playing another: If You’re Happy and You Know It. I laughed at his choice of songs, because it made me realize just how happy I was! I clapped my hands in time to the music as we moved on.
Dana’s children were tired, so we began heading toward their hotel. As we walked, we heard about all the places they’d been during their week on the East Coast—5 museums in D.C., the White House, Arlington National Cemetery, Valley Forge National Park, the Liberty Bell, a Phillies game . . . no wonder they were tired!
We said goodnight in front of the hotel, and Bill, Alexis and I walked toward home. I smiled as I thought about the evening. Seeing my niece and her family was wonderful, even though the visit was much too brief. Standing close to them on the parkway—in the middle of that huge group of people—made me feel as though I was in a little island of love. The ugly memory of that other 4th of July had been replaced by a new, warm memory. Independence Day in Philadelphia had been redeemed.
I’ve always known that people sometimes need a second chance to make a good impression, and now I realize that sometimes a city does too.
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