Like dozens, maybe hundreds of others, Denise and Darrel West, of Byron, sat with their friends Sue and Steve Head, of Acworth, on Monday afternoon, enjoying the warm sun at Sandy Beach Park on Lake Tobesofkee.
“All our children are in the water,” Denise West said, waving at four boys and a girl near the swimming area’s outer limit.
“Our daughter is dating their son, so we were invited,” Sue Head said.
The Wests and Heads sat in a ring of folding chairs, coolers, bags, flip-flops and towels, surrounded by other families in similar states, while many tended grills on the grassy bank behind them. Most were there not just to enjoy the July 4 weather but waiting for the Sparks Over the Park fireworks show after dark.
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“We have been coming here since we moved to Georgia four years ago,” Denise West said. “It’s a great family show. It’s top-notch.”
This year looked dubious when they arrived: it was sprinkling rain, and they wondered if they should leave, she said.
“We just chose to stay, and we’re thankful that we did,” Denise West said.
In a flat grassy area just west of Sandy Beach, Tyler Mitchell and crew -- his two sons, son-in-law and a close friend -- were unloading the evening’s entertainment from their Budget rental truck.
They hammered together wooden frames filled with rows of vertical plastic tubes 3 through 6 inches in diameter, then placed a firework shell in each, carefully draping the fuse over the tube lip.
Mitchell, a Callahan native but now resident of Macon, said he’s been doing fireworks shows since the 1970s -- “Ever since I had kids old enough to help me.”
He started with a small show in Callahan, and now does shows around Georgia and Florida.
The fireworks were from Pyrotecnico, of New Castle, Pa., which loaded the truck from its magazine near Phenix City, Ala., Mitchell said.
The show would last 20 minutes or so, which is about as long as people are likely to enjoy craning their necks upward, he said.
As his crew assembled a battery of about 170 tubes for the show’s finale, Mitchell said they would touch off the shells with a road flare, maybe two or three at a time. They wear jeans, eye and ear protection, but expect some burns from sparks and falling ash as part of the job, he said.
Mitchell and his crew would have to dodge back from each tube before the fast-burning fuse disappeared, listening for the sound of a failed launch, which can mean a shell bursting on the ground or only a few feet in the air -- and the small three-inch shells pack as much punch as a hand grenade, he said.
“They can be right interesting,” Mitchell said.
Among the people sitting closest to the fireworks was Bongo Cash, of Atlanta, there with 11 family members including his wife, Empress, and their three children. He held his daughter Imany in his lap, enjoying the scenery while they waited for chicken to finish grilling; this would be Imany’s first fireworks show, Empress Cash said.
Bongo Cash said he came down for last year’s show, and found it well-organized. He brought his family back this year, partly for the entertainment, but mostly just to enjoy time with their relatives, he said.
Behind him on a blanket sat Marjorie Joseph, of Macon, Shirley Ochoa, of Atlanta and Sherry Webster, of Miami, all cousins. They gazed across the water as boats and personal watercraft plowed back and forth against a backdrop of big lakefront houses.
Ochoa wished variously to be riding a personal watercraft and to live in one of the houses they could see. Her cousins agreed at least with the latter.
Beyond the simple enjoyment of the beach and anticipation of the fireworks, the Fourth of July event was good for bringing together a varied crowd of races and cultures, Empress Cash said.
“This is the time to unify the people, you know?” she said.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.