PEPPERELL -- It was rockets' red glare on the night after the Fourth of July as the town's streets and neighborhoods emptied out and everyone, it seemed, congregated at Varnum Brook field and the nearby Nissitissit School grounds to join in celebrating the nation's birthday.
The color and excitement was a marked difference from the day before, when Hurricane Arthur drove up the east coast of the U.S. leaving New England overcast and soggy.
That, however, did not discourage the July 5 crowds who curtailed whatever plans they may have had for the day to head in the direction of the planned pyrotechnic display.
"You can't stay home when there's fireworks," said Kayla GaNung, putting the issue in a nutshell.
The GaNung family occupied its traditional spot for a ringside view of the night's fireworks put on by the Atlas Pyro Vision Co., hired by the Pepperell Fourth of July Committee.
The committee worked all year long conducting fundraisers and organizing volunteers to prepare for the one-day bash that included a parade, games, music, food and, of course, fireworks.
"The Fourth of July kicks off summer," said Russ GaNung, relaxing in a folding chair waiting for sundown. "Plus, it's a good day to think of our veterans. That's what it's really all about."
Nearby, food vendors held court around the perimeter selling everything from hot dogs to fried dough. Where people had not spread out blankets or staked out good spots with lawn chairs, kids of all ages danced to the Village People, did the Hokey Pokey with the help of a DJ, or took part in hula-hoop contests.
Elsewhere, boys played whiffle ball or tossed a football around while bigger kids took part in some pick-up basketball on the courts off the town field.
Others took the occasion to spontaneously express themselves, unable to contain their enthusiasm for the meaning of the day. One such was the self-described Freedom McAmerica who wandered among the crowd in a red, white and blue-designed T-shirt and cape and wearing a headpiece in the form of a fierce looking bald eagle.
"Freedom is in my nature," was all McAmerica volunteered when asked why he was there. "It's because of FREEDOOOOOM!"
McAmerica was very explicit in stating that the FREEDOM had "27 O's in it," but readers will surely catch the spirit in which the word was uttered!
Through it all, as the sun slowly sank toward the horizon and finally disappeared behind the trees, people kept streaming in from parking lots and the rotary down on Main Street until Varnum Brook field was filled to overflowing and the excess made do with roomier fare on the town field.
"The Fourth is definitely worth celebrating," said Pepperell resident Kieley Vieweg as she surveyed the crowd. "It brings everyone in town together as a community."
"No one is a stranger," added friend Leanne Winton, also of Pepperell. "They're all people we know."
"The Fourth of July in Pepperell is very traditional and everyone loves to come," confirmed Amanda Rossi.
"People always talk about events that get people together but this is one event that actually does it," Vieweg said.
Suddenly, there was a hush as over the PA system wafted the strains of the Star Spangled Banner. Kids dropped what they were doing and ran to where their families had gathered, activity on the basketball court stopped and a loud cheer filled the air when the song was completed.
Not long after, the first missile was fired into the air high overhead, and burst in a rainbow of color.
Paid for solely through donations and fundraising, the Fourth of July Committee raised $32,000 for this year's celebration.
But the group's motto, "Little town, big bang," was in real danger of not being fulfilled in future years.
According to committee president Carol Gates, with all of the group's officers resigning after this year, it was not clear if there would be anyone to succeed them so that there could be a celebration again in 2015.
"This committee has worked tirelessly every year beginning in August with only two weeks off before starting work all over again on the following year's event," said Gates. "It's a lot of work but when we see all the families out here having fun and seeing the kids' enthusiasm dancing and playing, it makes it all worth it."
Which made it all the harder, said Gates, to contemplate the fact that the committee will disband after this year's event if volunteers do not step up and take over.
"We have a Facebook account with 4,500 friends but when it comes time to help us out or volunteer to serve on the committee, no one steps forward," said Gates.
But with this year's celebration having just ended, there's time for anyone to make known their interest in helping to keep the committee going. All they have to do is visit the group's website at pepperell4thofjuly.org and contact committee members who may still be on duty.
If the town's traditional Fourth of July celebration is not to disappear next year, such public spirited volunteers will be a necessity.
And remember, in the words of Freedom McAmerica, it's all about FREEDOOOOOM!