CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The elaborate fireworks displays on the river and at the ballpark are a far cry from those of my youth, which my father produced in our backyard.
Sparklers were distributed to the audience of neighborhood kids, and the more daring of us tried cherry bombs, which exploded with an impressive bang when thrown on the sidewalk, and "crackers" of various sizes set off by too short fuses.
The most exciting was the finale: Roman candles -- cardboard tubes spitting out colored balls of fire that attained a magnificent height of perhaps 20 feet.
Eighteen years later found me living on an Edgewood hill enjoying a distant Fourth of July display from a lawn chair in a neighbor's yard -- and sometime after that from Haddad Park. The best show of all featured a blue waterfall cascading over the South Side Bridge.
However, consistently most memorable were the Fourth of July fireworks produced and orchestrated at the Wehrle family reunion at their camp on the Elk River.
Initially, the shows were amateur to the extent that one of the family members actually constructed an amazing variety of fireworks. I remember the anticipation preceding the launching of his hot-air balloon, the excitement as he lit the fire under the balloon, watching the great white bubble inflate, and the disappointment as it withered and collapsed to the ground.
That was not the last time the dreams of our budding inventor were thwarted. On a subsequent Fourth, we moved our launch site to the beach on the other side of the river where, well fortified with copious amounts of beer, the Wehrle clan gathered for a demonstration of his skyrockets.
The rockets zoomed impressively up and away over the water, until one collided with a tree, a very dry tree, which immediately burst into flames. We grabbed the beer, climbed into our boats and rowed frantically back to the dock.