Thursday, July 3, 2008

Old-Fashioned Fourth of July

Memories of the Fourth of July when I was a child are always the same. The first thing in the morning was traveling to New Kensington to watch the parade. When my father was young, he marched with the drum and bugle corps, playing the bugle. My grandfather was always involved in one way or another in the parade, as he was a policeman. Parades were exciting and special events in those days.

After the parade, we went to the home of my maternal great-uncle and his wife, who hosted both his family and hers, at an all-day picnic which ultimately was like a family reunion. I don't recall the Fourth ever being anything but hot and humid, miserably so. We all congregated in the back yard of Uncle Frank's house, and amid the group picture-taking, we kids played games and had a grand old time. Bottles of pop were kept cold in galvanized wash tubs filled with dry ice, which always fascinated us kids. We were always cautioned not to touch the dry ice, but we all, at one time or another, defied the warnings of the grown-ups. There never was any alcohol, as this group was made up of staunch Presbyterians who frowned upon drinking. I recall my parents talking about some of the men who had "stashes" in their autos, which explained the disappearances, and consequent behavioral changes, of the men throughout the day. Most of the men, and very few women, smoked cigarettes, though. Remember, this was in the 40's and 50's, prior to warnings about smoking.

Every few years, our great aunt and uncle from Scranton would come with some or all of their children. I was always ecstatic when they came and brought their son, Joe. He was a few years older than the rest of us, and I had a little girl crush on him. The last time I saw him, when I was about thirteen, he took all of us kids for a ride in his convertible and we thought he was just super.

Everyone brought a covered dish or a dessert or fruit to the picnic, but other than hot dogs and hamburgers, I don't remember exactly what foods we ate. Except for the watermelon, of course. That was as much a part of the Fourth of July as fireworks. As dusk arrived, we kids were given "sparklers" which were lit by the grownups. Other than being told not to touch the sparkling part of the wands, we were allowed to just enjoy waving the sparklers around until they died out. Everyone left after the sparklers to watch the fireworks from a neighboring hill. Ahh, that was always the best time of the summer. Fireworks weren't shown other than on the Fourth of July, so it was a real treat. My father used to tell us of the fireworks when he was a kid, and said they were far more elaborate and depicted things like the flag.

After the great uncles and aunts, including my grandparents, passed away, the reunions ceased. And the Fourth of July was never again the same.
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