GROTON -- There was marked tension in the record crowd that gathered on Town Field the night of July 6 as anxious residents waited for the start of the annual Fourth of July fireworks display.
But the rockets' red glare and bomb bursts in air had to wait well past sundown as police searched for a child who had gone missing among the thousands who packed every square foot around the park and who kept pouring in even after dark.
But at last Chief Donald Palma reported the child had been found and as the Nashoba Valley Concert Band struck up the "1812 Overture" and the local minutemen fired off fiery salute from their muskets, everyone knew the moment they had been waiting for had arrived.
A collective cheer filled the sultry air as the first group of rockets exploded high overhead, filling the night sky with festoons of color and the thunder of explosions.
"Having fireworks every year is certainly a good idea," enthused 18-year-old Max Bender. "You get to see a whole bunch of people you don't see the rest of the year. It's a good start to the summer season."
"They should have them every year," agreed local resident Dan Shreve. "It's an excellent event for the kids and helps to bring everyone together. It's a good expense for the town and well worth the price."
"It's nice to see everybody out in the same place and enjoying themselves," said Kate Shamberger. "It's just not the same if you have to drive to another town to see fireworks. The
"It's lovely," said Pennsylvania native Barbara Svitek, now a resident of Littleton. "I only moved to Littleton two and half years ago, and as an out of towner, events like this make you less homesick. In Pittsburgh, we used to always have fireworks displays like this."
Unlike the year before, the weather did not interfere with the 1,000 shots prepared by New Hampshire based Atlas Pyro Vision Productions Inc.
Automobiles choked every street and side road as late comers tried to find any kind of space that was not blocked by overhanging trees or taken up by those who had come early. Down on the field, before it filled up with blankets and folding chairs, hundreds of younger children ran about in the dying sunlight throwing Frisbees or playing with glowing toys.
Parks Commission Chairman Don Black, who helped organize last week's event, was guarded in his prediction earlier in the evening, but did note that the Fireman's Association had already run out of hot dogs and hamburgers and the line for fried dough stayed long the entire time.
"I think it's going to be a mob scene tonight," predicted Black looking out over the growing crowds.
Among those crowds was local historian Earl Carter, who had no reservation about describing the annual fireworks event as "phenomenal" but who also had a few words to say about Black.
"I'd like to give credit to Don Black for putting all this together," said Carter. "He works a long time behind the scenes to make all this happen every year. People just don't realize what he gives to this town."
For his part, Black was quick to note that the cost of last week's fireworks display was borne by a combination of private donations and contributions from the town's Trust Funds.
Be that as it may, the results were very much appreciated, especially by the town's younger set.
"The fireworks here are always really, really good," said 12-year-old Rachel Walsh. "And they get better every year!"
"I like them because they're loud and scary," said a laughing Emily Carville, 14. "They're pretty though and it's wonderful to be here with my friends."
"Having fireworks every year is a good idea," admitted 13-year-old Makayla Torres-Pagan. "It's a good time for people to get together and enjoy themselves."
But it was left to 9-year-old Julia Broughton to sum up the meaning of summertime, its promise of freedom and joy to people of all ages:
"I like the fireworks because they're colorful...and I get to stay up late!"