My buddy Rome resident Blake Kirby was once shamed on the Fourth of July and it’s something he’s carried in his heart for many years.

He recently poured his heart out to me and revealed the incident in all its painful detail.

After I got done laughing at him, I thought what better way to help him heal than to publicize his embarrassment. In so doing, I’d dredge up all those still-raw emotions and open those old wounds again, forcing him to seek closure.

Here’s what happened:

Many years ago when his (now grown) sons were little boys, Blake and his wife and her family went to Panama City Beach for the Fourth of July. Some of you might know that the Fourth of July in PCB is a big deal. But for those who don’t know, PCB bills its Independence Day celebration as the largest on the Gulf Coast. There’s a massive fireworks display put on by the city.

However, individual families also bring a ton of their own fireworks and set them off on the beach. People go all out with their fireworks because, with so many people on the beach, it’s almost like a competition. You’re putting on your own show. And it’s sort of expected that your show should entertain other beachgoers.

Blake, however, had never been there for the Fourth. He had no clue how seriously people were about their fireworks.

So on the way to the beach that year, his wife and mother-in-law encouraged him to stop and get some fireworks for the boys to enjoy on the Fourth. They were very little at the time so Blake went ahead and bought some bottle rockets and Black Cats and those little twirly wheels that whirl and sparkle — things the boys would be sure to enjoy.

Well now it’s the Fourth and they’re on the beach enjoying the huge fireworks display put on by the city. The beach is packed with other families. One by one, all the families around them start setting of the fireworks they brought. And it’s spectacular. People are “ooh-ing” and “aah-ing” as the entire beach is lit up with fireworks.

It’s just now starting to dawn on Blake how much people have spent on their fireworks and how everyone around him has gone all-out to impress their families and other beach-goers. And he has this terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach because he knows the little rinky-dink fireworks he bought in a Walmart parking lot.

He HOPES and PRAYS that with all the spectacular fireworks going off around them, his family will be satisfied. And they should be. They’ve been watching an hour’s worth of fireworks go off in the night sky above them. Surely they don’t care about what he brought.

Oh but they DO. In front of God and everybody, the wife and the mother-in-law begin calling out “Blake, do yours. Do yours.” And he tries to downplay it and softly talk them out of it. But they won’t be denied. “Yes. Do your fireworks, Blake. The boys wanna see ‘em. Don’t you boys?”

Now everyone’s watching. All the people around him have heard that Blake has fireworks he’s going to set off. And his wife and mother-in-law are egging him on. His family is excited about it and his little boys are thrilled.

“Get ready, boys, here it comes,” the mom yells to them.

At this point, everyone on the beach around them is watching and waiting and Blake wants to dig a hole in the sand and bury himself.

Grudgingly he opens the little plastic bag his fireworks are in and he starts lighting bottle rockets. As they zoom a few feet in the air and pop, it’s painfully obvious that this is the saddest fireworks display on the entire beach. Blake even tries to tie several bottle rockets together in hopes that it will make a bigger show. But it doesn’t.

At that moment he was the Clark Griswold of PCB. Just like the dad in those National Lampoon movies, Blake had tried so hard to make his family happy and make them proud of him, but everyone could see that his fireworks were a flop, especially compared to the magnificent display they had been witnessing all night.

And as if it couldn’t get any worse, between the pops and whizzes and bangs of Blake’s show, a lone beachgoer starts BOOING very loudly. And then another person begins to boo. And another. Suddenly everyone around him was booing his sad little fireworks display.

Blake left the beach that night full of shame and regret.

But he had learned an important lesson. The next time they went to PCB for the Fourth of July he spent a small fortune on fireworks, determined never to endure that shame again.

And if you think that the experience caused him to be more sympathetic toward other unprepared parents with inadequate fireworks displays, you’re dead wrong. If some poor, unsuspecting dad even thinks of lighting a bottle rocket or a Black Cat on that beach on the Fourth of July, you can bet money Blake Kirby will be the first one to start booing.

Severo Avila is Features Editor for the Rome News-Tribune.

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