It was the Bicentennial of our nation, July 4, 1976. In the far reaches of our country, towns across the fruited plain were rolling out the greatest 4th of July celebrations ever seen. While the tall ships of nations crowded the harbors of great cities like Boston, New York, and San Francisco, I was missing it all. I was working my first summer as a camp counselor in the tiny town of Weld, Maine. To understand how small this town was, it had only two minuscule convenience stores. While I don’t recall the first store’s name, I couldn’t forget the second one. It was simply known as, “The Other Store.” The sign said so.
The town boasted a pristine lake seven miles long. It was surrounded on three sides by the most beautiful mountains one could ever gaze upon. The lodge of the youth camp I was working, had stood proudly overlooking the west side of the lake since 1925. Made of rock maple, it sported a two ton granite fireplace mantel over it’s majestic fireplace. A large moose head adorned the top of the stone fireplace adding the finishing touch to this impressive lodge.
My first counseling job was historic. I was a member of the first youth camp in Maine to ever give the full camping experience to blind children. Now being July 4th, the staff had gathered together in the early morning to vote on the days events. A boy scout camp on the other end of the lake had called and asked us if we wanted to attend their fireworks display.
We were admonished at the beginning of camp that blind children needed to be treated like any other child. That meant that whatever the typical child did, blind children should do as well. We debated since the best part of fireworks was seeing colors, but after conferring with our campers they were anxious to experience the noise. We loaded up our trucks and vehicles and made the long trek to Camp Kawanee.
The boy’s camp had done their best to welcome us. A set of bleachers had been set along the shoreline, flags had dotted some trees on the windy road in. As we gathered our campers and sat among them on the bleachers, we noticed the fireworks set up. Thirty yards away on a tee-shaped wharf, bottle rockets and flares had been set at intervals pointing skyward for the evenings events. The electricity of excitement passed through the throng of children as we awaited the main event and those that could, watched the sun disappear behind Mt. Blue.
Compared to other bicentennial fireworks displays, this would have been considered pitiful. It didn’t matter to my campers, the camping experience was new, fun, and exciting enough. What we didn’t know, was this event was about to become an interactive experience. The fireworks show began simple enough. A few rockets went off and we explained to our children what the shapes of each display looked like; a marshmallow, a clover leaf etc. The big bangs made the children smile and laugh with glee. However as the grand finale approached, something went horribly awry. One of the counselors setting off the rockets made a misstep. Like a domino effect, the remaining rockets not only fell on their sides but were now pointing directly at us. Within seconds, rockets were whizzing past our heads, exploding around us, behind us, and over us. While those of us who could see were scurrying for cover or trying to protect our campers with our bodies, the blind children got even more animated. The louder the rockets and flares around us, the more clapping and laughing they did. As the smoke cleared and the grand finale ended around us, my campers couldn’t have been happier. They excitedly told us they had never experienced a fireworks display so noisy and fun in their life. They said it seemed like the fireworks were right up close this time. They had no idea.
As I gathered my campers for the ride home, I was humbled by one central thought. The very hand of God’s providence that formed our nation, had once again been used, this time to protect my campers. I might have missed some great bicentennial celebrations, but tonight it didn’t matter, I saw God’s hand, and that was good enough for me.
God Bless America and have a great celebration.