The sun lit the horizon like a fuse, burning through to a center of plum-hued pink. The kids were antsy as we drove toward Who-Knows-Where.
They didn't -- for good reason -- believe Who-Knows was a real place. It's not like Stratford-on-Avon or Castleton-on-Hudson, which they've seen in travel magazines and during construction detours. They were just going along.
My imaginary hyphenate held the promise of fireworks, and that's all that usually matters to anyone enriched with time and a tank full of fossil fuel after sunset on July 4th.
The children probably would have appreciated the splendor of Albany's display. They might have even enjoyed the crowds.
Of course, I could be wrong on that last count.
The scene frightened them enough to forgo public displays of pyrotechnics as if the razzle-dazzle only released rattle snakes into the air.
This year, emboldened by friends, we thought we'd try an adventure. Suss out the sizzle we'd heard happens annually at a nearby farm. We were told: Just park along the lane, pitch a few dollars into a collection plate and, you'll see celestial skyrockets until the cows come home.
But, as our luck would have it, the firework extravaganza was a thing of yesterday. And our rumor-monger informants had missed it, too.
Cue disappointed release bated breath.
So we did what all parents (who would rather have a root canal than traverse the seat of government looking for safe, yet percussive, patriotic explosives) are wont to do in this very situation:
We piled back into the car and started heading in the direction of water. We were on the lookout for small ponds, mid-sixes lakes, large puddles in front of new developments heretofore unencumbered by old-growth shade trees. Anywhere our sense of stereotype might pin DIY fireworks as a major part the evening's entertainment.
"I feel like a creeper," said my daughter, her voice somewhere between guilt and excitement. The earsplitting squeal she let out the moment a tiny pop of sparkle ignited above.
"THAT WAY!!! GO THAT WAY! GO GO GO!"
Off we went. Toward the lake houses, piled one on top of another, divided by narrow streets.
"You might try the turn-around at the end of the road," said a man who didn't want us to park near his gate. Not that we asked with actual words but I'm sure he could see the desire to park in our eyes as he pointed that-a-way ... "There's a cove down there ... it's pretty wide open."
We the cove much as he had described: A clearing bordering the lake's east-side elbow. Although it was open and inviting, the location obscured any view of the boats that had assembled along the western shores.
We could hear fireworks but we couldn't see them.
I tried to pretend; saying "Oooooh" and "ahhhhh" has the pops sprinkled the air. Described the sights I had seen (or wish to have seen) in my youth.
"Where are you looking?" exclaimed my exasperated son, who stopped himself from throwing a can of bug spray at me when I fessed up to fibbing.
"You are killing me!"
We got back into the car.
Windows open, radio off, we cruised along listening for bursts of manufactured thunder and looking for cracks of chemical lightning.
"I think I see something," my daughter hollered. "Take a right."
We saw it, too.
We pulled off to the side of a long county road, inched up to a scrawny tree, and, giving the impression that we were trying to hide our gargantuan vehicle behind the sapling for cover, we turned off the engine and scrunched down in our seats.
No one was fooled.
The shooting lights that had erupted from the lawn party, to which we hadn't been invited, suddenly ceased and desisted.
We gave up and crept onward.
Over hill and dale, down one dark road after another we searched.
Nothing. ... And just as we were about to give up, the air above us exploded into red and purple sparks.
Everyone screamed. We pulled the car over and got out. Standing at the edge of knee-high corn and looking toward a driveway lined with angled pipes, we waited and bounced.
And the tell-tale whistles revved up.
One by one, fast and furious, the hits kept coming. Twirling, dancing undulating lights cracking into loud booms overhead and lighting up the sky. The girls screamed, the boys silently orchestrated with an imaginary baton.
When it was all over, we gave rounds of enthusiastic but apologetic applause. And our accidental hosts replied in kind with the ultimate sign of forgiveness:
"See ya next year."
We may have been stealing thunder, but we certainly hit the mother lode.