Most big holidays are spent at home with family. The Fourth of July is different. Festivities beckon people to venture out and attend huge parties. Whereas most major holidays past blend together through uniformity, Fourth of Julys stand out. At least for me.

One of the most memorable was 2005. At the time, my family and I were living in California. I flew home on the Fourth from a trip to Iowa, and my then-husband and our three kids picked me up at the airport that afternoon. 

They had big plans, which included going to the marina to participate in a boat parade on our newly-acquired sailboat. We were to have a lovely cookout on the boat and watch fireworks.

The marina was a good two-and-a-half-hour drive north, and we had to go home first so I could get a bathing suit and flip-flops. After all, it was the Fourth of July. Due to the logistics of the fireworks display, there was a cut-off time of 4 p.m. for signing up to be in the parade, and we were racing the clock to get there by then. 

Up since 4 a.m. and traveling across the country for eight hours, I secretly wanted to just stay home. But I could not disappoint the rest of the family. I pretended to be delirious with excitement over the festivities. They gave me five minutes to take my suitcase inside and change my clothes while they waited in the car. 

We reached the marina in time. The California coast is often foggy and chilly, but we were new to the Pacific Ocean, and none of us were dressed for 60-degree temperatures. 

As it turned out, there was a problem with our boat, and we were relegated to staying in the dock, foregoing the parade. 

As the hours ticked by, we got colder. By 7 p.m., three hours after arriving, we were all huddled in the cabin of our docked boat, where our collective body temperatures warmed the small space. 

Suddenly, a propane tank that we were going to use for the barbeque grill, sprung a leak in the cabin and we scrambled to exit. Relegated to the cold again, we decided it was not worth waiting another two hours for the show to begin as our teeth chattered. Plus, our barbeque was ruined for lack of propane and we were starving.

I was thrilled when everyone decided they would rather leave. Plan B became to go to see the fireworks from a hilltop near our house. Again, I secretly just wanted to go home, but I pretended to be thrilled that there was a plan B. 

It was well after 9 p.m. by the time we arrived at the hill. We wondered if we had missed the fireworks display altogether, but the five of us scrambled to the top of a perilous brush and cactus-covered hill. In flip-flops. By that point, on top of still being cold, I had a splitting headache and was exhausted, growing crankier by the second.

As the minutes ticked by without a single firework lingering in the air, I finally gave up, believing we had missed them altogether. I announced that I was going to begin my descent into the darkness. In flip-flops.

The rest stayed behind with a die-hard optimism that the fireworks were yet to come, as if they had never seen them. 

At a snail’s pace, I worked my way down the hill. I made it halfway on my feet. The rest of the way went much quicker, thanks to some loose gravel and Mr. Gravity. I personally would have loved to see me emerge from the bushes at the bottom covered from head to toe with stickers, limping with a bruised hip, missing a flip-flop and swearing like Dick Cheney. 

Then came the icing on the cake. The others, still at the top and unaware of my near-death experience, began yelling, “Mom, come back, the fireworks have started.”

Once I cleared my airway of debris, I emphatically let them know that they would be viewing the fireworks without me. 

My then-husband was subsequently annoyed with me for ruining the fun. 

Though I still have a touch of Fourth of July PTSD from that memorable occasion, I enjoy going to the floodwall each year in Dubuque to watch the show. I always take a jacket, and I never wear flip-flops.