There is usually not much noise in tiny Hickory Grove. In the tiny western York County town of 467 people, not including the horses and goats and cows and chickens, quiet rules the day and the night 364 days a year.
There are just a couple of street lights. No stoplights. The darkness in Hickory Grove is the darkest, deepest dark. It is what people call “The Country.”
Except July 4.
Then Hickory Grove is simply The Big Boom.
July 4 in Hickory Grove is the biggest light display in the darkest country sky anybody ever saw. People come from all over, they park on rural S.C. 211 and Church Street and at the little town park across the highway.
They “ooooooh” and ‘ahhhhhhh.”
And one man, not an office holder or politician but just a guy, spends $3,000 of his own money earned working in a warehouse to buy and set off all these fireworks for The Big Boom. His name is Wesley White and he stands about 5 feet 4 inches tall.
But in tiny Hickory Grove, he is a giant on July 4.
“I just love fireworks, but more, I love people,” said White, 29. “In this world we have so much division, so many things that keep people apart, I just always wanted to find a way to bring all kinds of people together in America. What better way than fireworks on July 4?”
In South Carolina, fireworks are not just legal, but so legal that people come from other states to buy truckloads of them. White buys some of the biggest and best, saving all year to splurge for July 4. He already has towers of boxes ready to go.
“I want the show to be the best so that people can have a great time and know that somebody out here loves them,” White said. “I have had strangers stop and cry and say it was so great. We have had people come up here and hug us all and thank us for giving them a little bit of togetherness in this world.”
White, a proud Christian who has started a clothing line – and a motto for his life – called “Prayed Up,” started humbly six years ago with his show. He wanted the kids in his family to see fireworks out in the country and not have to travel 30 miles to Rock Hill or 40 miles to Charlotte. The show has gotten bigger and better, and louder and brighter, every year.
“He always loved the things that went boom, the fireworks, so it just seemed natural that he would do this,” said Harriet White, Wesley’s mother. “He has this giving spirit.”
Wesley’s father, sisters, daughter, nieces, aunts all get in on the event, with a free community cookout, even swimming in their family pool for anyone who shows up. There is a mountain of food, fellowship and fun.
And it is all free.
There are black people and white people and Hispanics who watch the fireworks and meet new people. People start showing up around 4 p.m. and stay until way past dark. The food is shared and the sweet tea is shared and then the fireworks are shared. Because on July 4, White said, America’s greatness shows through by the sharing of patriotism.
“Everybody on July 4 loves America,” White said. “We all wave the same flag. We all should love each other. Maybe this is one way I can help change the country so that more days we can all love each other a little bit more.”
The Big Boom over six years has boomed, as word spreads on social media and at church and just plain old-fashioned word of mouth.
And it all happens in a tiny town where the summer darkness changes on July 4 every year to an afternoon of togetherness and fun and a night of explosions.
“Hickory Grove is a small place,” White said. “Real small. But I want to show the world that on July 4 we have the biggest heart.”