One of my favorite summertime memories is of my late father and I, back in the countryside of New York State, skirting through traffic on our way to a firework show. We’d do the same thing year after year on this particular day—July Fourth. 

His police officer badge and his sparse gray hair helped us get a close parking spot. We’d rifle through a messy trunk for the things we needed—blankets, sweatshirts, camp chairs, maybe a flashlight, and some snacks. We’d mosey over to our hilltop and spread a blanket down where we’d prop the chairs and watch as families chose the right spot to enjoy the show together. He always had me carry a cylinder of small American flags, to which I’d later be embarrassed when he’d ask me for them, to hand out to strangers. 

Now, as an adult, I nearly tear up over this memory. I remember seeing the joy on these strangers’ faces over a simple gesture, and the memory of those little flags flickering all over the hillsides that surrounded us. But mostly I remember my father—proud, with his hand over his heart when the National Anthem rang through a loudspeaker.

Like throwing a switch, night had fallen and fireworks were ablaze above us. Their glittering tails were brilliant, glorious, and then gone, much like our Montana summers. 

I always think of him and that memory when the warm air breezes through the window screens. Outside, I can hear the occasional flap of the American flag waving about, no longer encased in ice or blowing violently in the early spring winds. It’s just, well, free.