Pie for Breakfast, Pie for Dinner

Posted on July 7, 2015


4th of July in Rye

Fireworks in the Blood

Growing up in NH and then moving out west, it took me a long time to realize how regional the Fourth of July is.  I remember the bicentennial and how the 4th lasted 3 days, with parades, frog jumping, pie eating, obstacle courses, bicycle races, and tugs-of-war. Portsmouth is rife with Revolutionary War history and it was a big part of our school curriculum. Hell, our school sports teams were the Rye Rebels. I just don’t think other areas of the country have the context for the celebration that small New England towns do. People in Seattle will stop in the middle of the I-5 ship canal bridge to watch the fireworks (no, really, they do, and I don’t mean on the shoulder of the road, I mean right ever the frick they are when the first burst [apparently] surprises them), but that is pretty much the extent of the holiday for them.

My father works at the Daniel Webster estate and owns a fireworks company (Jack’s 5 Star Fireworks), and every year I go home to help him shoot a few shows. This is the first year in over 20 we didn’t do the big show at Rye Beach. (By big, I mean 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 inch shells shot out of mortars chained together with enough timber and nails to frame a small house.)


Doing head shots for my mom’s upcoming book on Concord, NH, couldn’t resist taking this one.

This was the “little” Class C show at Rye center. It rained early in the day and there was lots of consternation, but we decided to do it. I had apple pie for breakfast (an old New England traditions) and started loading the van out of the fireworks shed. No, really, we have a little house full of them.

IMG_0564 Names like “The Chronic,” “One Dumb Cousin,” “Betrayed by All,”  my favorite “Sky Paridise” (sic). I want to write fireworks labels when I grow up.

We always pre-function next door to our old house, where our neighbor still lives. He cast a bunch of mortars at his uncle’s foundry when he was a kid, my dad bought one, and much bonding over explosives followed. Now he has a revolutionary war cannon of a type use on General John Burgoyne’s (my namesake), ill-fated Lake Champlain campaign against Ethan Allen, before he became the furniture chain store giant he is today. Yes, my neighbor has a cannon.

Being good neighbors we went next door to warn/invite them. From what I indirectly gleaned, back in Duvall, similar events were even then being handled by an endless public facebook rant involving PTSD dogs or something; in Rye we ended up doing a special firing so the kids could come. They even got to light it if they wanted. And, as a result, I got to tour the house I grew up in, now given new life into a very nice place, and got to swap some tales and information about the place they never would’ve known. (Like that the builder had disconnected them from and covered over a perfectly functional spring well which we used for years.)

We had hotdogs under the hand-hewn beams of days gone by and then, after one more salute, went to set up the show.


This is what a 300-year old house looks like.

IMG_0578 IMG_0603

I wired the show, but there are too many worthy volunteers to shoot, so I took pictures. I like digital because I can eventually figure out the optimized shot (manual, f/8, 1/10th of a second for these low shells), but I prefer film, because I can double and triple-expose in camera. I’m sure my nephew did as well or better on his iPhone. I wanted to try aperture zooming but that also would be hard digitally. And, of course, I didn’t bring a tripod. It was also tough because on the still wet night the smoke was not clearing, occluding the shots. The show went over 20 minutes. After a while the fireworks bore me, so I like to get in a few shots of the ground crew, probably because I understand all the work that goes into it and you never see images of the people doing it.


For me, this is the shot of the night.

We went back to Sandy’s for strawberry- rhubarb pie and more cannon play, but it got later than our agreed self-imposed curfew to shoot. As I was leaving with my nephew, I saw the orangest moon I ever saw rising. We flew to the beach, but it was already high and my pictures picked up the orange in the reflection, but not the moon. Still, I’m never really home until I’ve been to the water. After that we drove back to Franklin and I caught up with Gabriel for the first time in years. It was a good night.