Bradbury’s Nostalgic July 4 Memory

The Glorious Fourth--sending up the fire balloon 1871Ray Bradbury’s Fourth of July reminiscence from The New Yorker (2012).

…While I remained earthbound, I would time-travel, listening to the grownups, who on warm nights gathered outside on the lawns and porches to talk and reminisce. At the end of the Fourth of July, after the uncles had their cigars and philosophical discussions, and the aunts, nephews, and cousins had their ice-cream cones or lemonade, and we’d exhausted all the fireworks, it was the special time, the sad time, the time of beauty. It was the time of the fire balloons.

Even at that age, I was beginning to perceive the endings of things, like this lovely paper light. I had already lost my grandfather, who went away for good when I was five. I remember him so well: the two of us on the lawn in front of the porch, with twenty relatives for an audience, and the paper balloon held between us for a final moment, filled with warm exhalations, ready to go.

I’d helped my grandpa carry the box in which lay, like a gossamer spirit, the paper-tissue ghost of a fire balloon waiting to be breathed into, filled, and set adrift toward the midnight sky. My grandfather was the high priest and I his altar boy. I helped take the red-white-and-blue tissue out of the box and watched as Grandpa lit a little cup of dry straw that hung beneath it. Once the fire got going, the balloon whispered itself fat with the hot air rising inside.

But I could not let it go. It was so beautiful, with the light and shadows dancing inside. Only when Grandpa gave me a look, and a gentle nod of his head, did I at last let the balloon drift free, up past the porch, illuminating the faces of my family….

3 thoughts on “Bradbury’s Nostalgic July 4 Memory

  1. Lovely!

    And this seems a good place to thank you, Mike, because without your posts on the Ray Bradbury bookends, I would never have known about them. Mine came a couple of days ago, and are sitting on my shelf (still waiting to be filled with books because I was moving my home office from the library to a backbedroom). I’m going to use them to hold up various sff books.

    Thank you!

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