Fourth of July in Virginia City

Growing up, the Fourth of July was always one of my favorite holidays. There was so much to enjoy:

  • The long, summer day (and getting to stay up late because school was out).
  • The fun family barbecue with hamburgers, hots dogs and watermelon.
  • Then, at dusk, driving up to Virginia City to see the fireworks.

For years, Virginia City’s lavish fireworks display was Northern Nevada’s best-kept secret. Nobody but us seemed to go there. Fourth of July in Virginia City

We would park alongside the launching area and stand directly beneath the explosive spectacle. Once, a wayward spark ignited a sagebrush behind us. My grandfather rushed to stomp it out.

Nowadays, however, the secret seems to be out. The Reno-Lake Tahoe-Carson City area has seen so much growth over the past several years, and now it seems everyone goes to Virginia City for the Fourth of July.

The last time we tried going was a few years ago. Once we got into town, we were confronted by a barrage of people. The streets were swarming. It looked like the Rolling Stones playing Copacabana.

We turned and drove halfway down the hill to watch the fireworks from the side of the road. That way, we wouldn’t get caught in the great exodus when the show was over.

One of my favorite Fourth of July memories was taking my great-grandmother to watch the Virginia City fireworks. I was probably 11 or 12, and my great-grandmother was in her 80s. We drove with my parents and grandparents.

As the rockets launched heavenward and the sky exploded with color, the bells of St. Mary’s in the Mountains Catholic Church tolled with their beautiful sound. My great-grandmother hummed along, sitting in the passengers’ seat with her window rolled down.

Amid all the patriotic glory, a drunk staggered out of the shadows and stood in front of our car. A group of children in the distance chanted “Fireworks, fireworks!” The drunk followed along, bellowing “Fireworks, fireworks!” with his gruff, throaty growl.

Then, as the sky flashed with color, the drunk yanked down his pants and urinated in front of our car.

“Oh dear,” my great-grandmother said.

The drunk stood there for a while, moaning and humming as he did his business. The cascading sparkles of the fireworks bathed him in a sheen of bright light, so that his actions were well-lit and unmistakable.

Judging from the amount of time he stood there, I figured he must have drunk somewhere between 300 and 350 beers.

When he was done, he hitched up his trousers and wandered into the distance, still bellowing “Fireworks, fireworks!” A large, frothy puddle remained.

“Did that young man just go to the restroom?” my great-grandmother asked.

“He did,” my grandfather said.

“In the middle of the street?”

“Yes. In the middle of the street.”

“The poor dear. He must not have been able to hold it.” My great-grandmother shrugged, then continued to hum along with the church bells.

As you gather with friends and family to celebrate our great country this Fourth of July, be sure to make memories. Life goes so fast. My great-grandmother’s no longer with us, but every time I think of that story (and her muted reaction to the bedraggled, urinating drunk), I can’t help but smile.

It’s those little moments you carry with you that keep your loved ones alive in your heart.

Have a fun — and safe — Fourth of July, everyone. May God bless.

Related: Here’s a link to a short video I produced about Virginia City. (It has a shot of St. Mary’s in the Mountains Catholic Church, which is beautiful.) If you ever have the opportunity to visit, you really should. It’s an awesome place, and I’m lucky to live close by.
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