When I was growing up, we never got to go to the Monument grounds for the Fourth of July.

I was what they called a "frail" child--rheumatic fever and a resultant "slight heart murmur" that I shamelessly capitalized on whenever I didn't want to do something like learn how to dive. (I never did.)

Anyway, my putative frailty kept us out of summer crowds, for one thing, you know, polio, and for the other, we were usually in camp by then. Oh sure, there were a few desultory Roman candles and fountains and a few more answering ones from the camp on the other side of the lake, but by and large, I grew up fireworks-deprived.

The first time our kids became aware that there was more to the Fourth than bootleg cherry bombs next door that drove our dogs under the beds or finger-stinging sparklers, I thought it would be just grand to get to the Monument.

We made it a picnic, of course, with a neighbor and their kids and got to the grounds a good three hours early to command a few square feet of optimum viewing.

The children fought. Mosquitoes bit. It even rained a little. One parent threatened to pile the whole brood back into the station wagon and pack it in.

But then, eventually, it got dark.

There might have been some speeches--we certainly couldn't hear them from where we were--and then they started.

There's nothing like them anywhere--hypnotic, exciting, ear-drum bursting, sparkling fairy-tale lights against the velvety sky. Magical and alive the colors swoop overhead and the rockets red glare the bombs bursting in air . . .

Afterward, overtired children whined and kvetched all the way home.

Nobody believed it when some parent or other said never again.

We all knew we were hooked.