It’s five in the afternoon on June 26. Any other day, Celebration Park would be sparsely populated, with just a few kids playing in the water garden while their parents consider joining them. Even though it is approaching evening, it’s just too hot.
But today is June 26, the Saturday before Independence Day, and the park’s name seems more fitting. You can barely see the perfectly groomed emerald grass for all the blankets spread across the field that has suddenly become a concert venue. On the stage that was constructed this morning in the shelter of darkness, a seventies cover band, La Freak, sings songs that are barely recognizable to anyone under forty.
At the edge of the crowd, where the blankets thin out enough to provide a walking path, the makings of a carnival begin. Bounce houses and mini rides have appeared overnight. Right along side them are massive signs for corn dogs, ice cream and corn on the cob. It is like a taste of the state fair just popped up in the middle of town.
We have at least two hours to kill before the headlining band makes an appearance. From our blanket near the center of the red, white, and blue sporting patriots, my best friend Laura, her sister Alyssa, and I entertain ourselves by observing everyone’s ‘interesting’ outfits. Designer clad, bleach blonde, Polo wearing families intermingle with overweight women in bikinis showing off for their pot bellied husbands. It is the perfect mix of red neck hicks and east coast WASPs.
“I want cotton candy,” Alyssa declares. The children on the next blanket are wrestling a little to close to my feet for comfort, so I quickly agree that leaving is the best idea. Hoping my napping mother won’t wake before we return, we wipe the sweat of every exposed body part and attempt to navigate the maze that has built up around us.
Away from the cozy family blankets we are suddenly surrounded by the teenagers that overrun the city on a daily basis. Only usually it isn’t this obvious. They are at every turn. Girls in short shorts and tight tops with too much make up on eyeing the jerseyed football players who are trying to look as if they don’t enjoy being at such a family friendly event. Nearly all of them are mainstream, decked out in American Eagle or Abercrombie and Fitch, carrying Coach purses, or wearing Allen Eagles t-shirts. There are a few rebels, wearing black despite the heat, with neon colored hair and facial piercings. But they are so few and far between they too get lost in the crowd.
And without fail, every few feet we recognize someone.
“She goes to my church,” Laura points out a girl I’ve never seen before.
“Oh, that girl is in my history class,” Alyssa comments.
And then as always, Laura or I inevitably mutter, “He was in band,” since one fifth of the high school made up our six hundred person marching band. This seems like the only town event the band doesn’t participate in. Which is probably good because there would be no where for them to stand.
After waiting in a line of at least twenty people for a four dollar bag of cotton candy, we all decide the romping children are more desirable than an outdoor replica of the high school halls we thought we had escaped. The sun is dipping close to the roofs of the houses that line the park as we weave back to our spot, losing Alyssa along the way to the teenagers.
Just as we settle back onto our picnic blankets, The Comadores take the stage and my mom hops up, clapping and jumping in place. Pumping her arms, motioning for us to join her, she breaks into song with the band as we just stare. We shake our heads and grin. Laura and I are not here for the band. We are here for the fireworks.
No Fourth of July celebration is complete without fireworks. So each year, the Saturday before the Fourth, Allen sets off the largest fireworks display in North Texas. As soon as The Comadores finish singing Brick House, we are given five minutes to get where we want to be. Five minutes before all lights are turned out and we are plunged into complete darkness.
A few little screams erupt when the darkness hits, even though we were warned multiple times. As our eyes attempt to adjust we are just as suddenly blinded. The boom crack that fills the air every night during the beginning of July is accompanied by bright colors and little drops of fire filling the air.
The dramatics of it all sends a chill down my spine. Laura laughs at my shiver, seeing as it is completely dark and still ninety degrees outside. We gaze back up at the sky, intermittently ohhing and ahhing over the fantastic somehow made into an ordinary by the city of Allen.