Guest Commentary: Why we ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ on Fourth of July


Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist. You can email him at

It’s been way too long since I lit a sparkler as the sun goes down on the Fourth of July.

I’ve enjoyed many daylong celebrations with friends and family on the Fourth in different ways, but they usually end with a gathering on a hill or a parking lot, where we have an excellent view of the fireworks staged by one of several local communities.

When I was a kid, we usually went to the parking lot at South Hills Village mall in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania.

We’d unload the car and set up our makeshift picnic area with beverages, snacks and lawn chairs.

As we eagerly waited for the sky to fall dark so the fireworks could start, the adults would help us kids light our sparklers.

We’d marvel at their blinding beauty — until we heard the first “woof!” of fireworks being launched.

We’d “oooh” and “aaah” like a children’s chorus, as the magnificent colors filled the sky.

And then, we’d brace ourselves for the grand finale — the massive unleashing of colors and concussive sounds that filled the air with smoke and the sweet smell of sulfur and culminated in loud clapping, cheering and honking.

Afterward, as we waited in the car in the parking lot traffic, a great melancholy would set in.

We realized that our wonderful day had met its end and we’d have to wait another long year before we could enjoy the experience all over again.

July Fourth was never just any old holiday celebration to me.

I didn’t fully understand it then, as I do now, but on the Fourth, we really were celebrating our many freedoms and the many blessings that millions of people in countries around the world never get to experience on a daily basis.

We are free to peaceably assemble and protest or support ideas we disagree or agree with.

We are free to speak our mind candidly, without fear that our government is going to toss us into jail.

We have the freedom to come and go as we please — the freedom to quit our jobs and risk it all to start a company and become our own boss.

That is what Eddie Gabor’s dad did many years ago, when he came to America from Hungary.

Eddie Gabor was my grandmother’s longtime companion. She’d lost her husband years before and had her share of loneliness, until she met Eddie at church.

Eddie’s father had come here seeking a better life for himself and his family, as millions still seek to do. He took the first job he could get: janitor.

He eventually started his own cleaning business and ended up employing scores of people and servicing the largest skyscrapers in downtown Pittsburgh.

Eddie Gabor’s father built himself a beautiful stone home high on a hill in the suburbs, on the edge of a park that has one of the area’s most spectacular Fourth of July fireworks displays.

It was also the home where, for 20 years, my extended family would gather on Independence Day to watch the fireworks — because Eddie’s father was able to achieve his American dream there.

I’m not sure yet where I’ll be oohing and aahing the fireworks this Fourth, but one thing is certain: Our country’s current problems notwithstanding, I’ll make sure to thank God for the many blessings we continue to enjoy.

I’ll be sure to light a sparkler or two.

Copyright 2022 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.