Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Many long ago 4ths

Every 4th was the same when I was little. Our cocker spaniel, Princess, was terrified of noises like thunder or fireworks, so Mom stayed home and cuddled Princess while Dad took my best friend, Sandy, and I to the park to watch the fireworks.

I grew up in a small town of less than 20,000 people in western Massachusetts in the Berkshire Mountains. A river ran through town, and along the river was a broad man-made dike. It was considered unwise for young girls to "walk the dike" alone, as there was the risk of running into what were then called "hobos" who would camp out between riding the rails on the local train tracks.

But around sunset on the 4th of July the whole town seemed to be out walking the dike to get to the park. It sure was easier than trying to find parking in the tiny lot in the tiny park. Families would be be greeting each other, carrying blankets, coolers, and lawn chairs down the grassy path through sumac trees and chokecherry trees. The route smelled green and grassy, warmed in the day's heat and the humidity of the nearby river.

Stationed along the dike at regular intervals were members of the local AmVets chapter. The AmVets funded the fireworks display every year, and they collected donations each year to help defray the cost. Everyone gave to the AmVets. Everyone. It was something you just did. It felt like a duty.

When we got to the park, we'd set out our blankets and listen to the town band, which assembled for this purpose and the Memorial Day and Veteran's Day parades. They would be in the park gazebo, and would play patriotic songs and Souza marches. Vendors would sell popcorn and soda, and the whole place would be buzzing with anticipation, as night began to settle in.

As night began to fall, people would start chanting, "FIREworks, FIREworks, FIREworks..." but the Amvets knew it made no sense to waste good fireworks in twilight.

Sandy and I would discretely crane our heads around to see who else was there -- specifically what boys had arrived. We'd giggle and sit there chatting as though we really were not interested as the boys drove by showing off on their bright bicycles.

Finally the first test launches were done, and the anticipation was almost palpable.
We settled back on our blankets, looking up at the night sky and waiting for that wonderful sound - -that pop-whoooosh of a firework being ignited. Then BANG and a shower of color.

There were sunbursts and chrysanthemum-shaped explosions, rockets and ground displays, multi color patterns and explosions that changed colors. There were surprise BOOOOOOMS at the end of a display, or little showers of gold coming out of nowhere. This was magic of the first order.

And then came the Grand Finale where multiple rockets were set off at once and in close sequence. The sound and smells and colors and varieties were absolutely thrilling.

It never seemed to last long enough, and before we knew time had passed, we were walking back home, always convinced that this year's display was the best year yet.

I loved the sweet simplicity of those years. I miss the feelings of safety and community. Yes it was Independence Day, but in so many ways it felt so delightfully predictable year to year in a little town where we also felt interdependent, and that was a lovely feeling indeed.


Blogger Jayne said...

What a lovely post Mata... and what great memories of life in a small town.

6:17 AM  
Blogger beth said...

I have the same sorts of memories of my hometown growing up - thanks for the wonderful reminder...

9:18 PM  

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