It begins with a silent spark. But then comes the boom.
We all take a breath as the nearly invisible flicker breaks into a thousand particles of light, colors washing over the sky like stars surrendered from the heavens.
On the ground, heads turn upwards. Children perch atop shoulders. Necks crane and onlookers gasp. Their breath escapes in the form of oooohs and aaahs before being drowned out by yet another blast of color. First a blue waterfall, then a purple peony followed by gold and silver starbursts and playful curlicues that zoom diagonally across the night’s canvas.
Each spark grows brighter and each boom grows boomier, until the sky seems entirely covered with showers of light, exploding over and over again in quick succession. We can feel the vibrations beneath our feet as they burst faster and faster. We put our hands on our hearts and our lips curl into irrepressible grins.
We wait for the final kaboom, which crackles through the sky like thunder.
And all at once there’s nothing but silence and smoke and wordlessness as the crowds disperse into the night.
And then, summer begins
For years, the Big Bang has marked the kick-off of the Big Gig, Milwaukee’s largest summer music festival. I couldn’t tell you how long the tradition has been around. But I can tell you that I have memories of it that span at least three decades and probably longer.
To great extent, I owe that to my mother, whose appreciation for the beauty of fireworks expressed itself in giddy grins, unstoppable “aaahs” and – if a display was particularly eye-catching – even a random bout of singular applause.
As far back as I can remember, we observed the July 4th festivities by packing up coolers of sodas and snacks, piling into the car and staking our modest claim along the hill in a nearby park to await the 20 minutes of sheer exhilaration that awaited.
In the case of Big Bang, we always gathered at Veterans Park. Some years, the weather was beautiful. Other years, it was cloudy and cool. But almost without exception, we’d arrive hours early to enjoy a picnic-style dinner (which always included some sort of pasta salad and scotcharoos) and play games until the sun disappeared, making way for one of the largest fireworks displays in the area.
For years, the Big Bang was as much a holiday as any other in our family. In high school and college, I often brought friends along (as well as the occasional boyfriend). And it was a tradition I carried on into my adult life. For many years after we were married, my husband and I would take the day off of work, pack up food for dinner and head down to the park, just as I’d done for decades. Sometimes we’d bring friends. Occasionally our families would meet us Downtown. But even when it was just the two of us, it always felt like a celebration.
For me, Big Bang has always marked the official beginning of summer, a season which begins with a silent spark… and ends in silence and smoke.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.