TV Guide cover from July 1976
(And there's a reason I picked that year's Fourth of July cover...)
Listening to the sounds of far-off fireworks going of in the distance on a hot summer night near the Fourth of July brings back many memories of Fourths gone by. As a kid I always loved hearing those distant fireworks popping, cracking and exploding as the Fourth of July approached. These sounds came from both big-time professional fireworks in other towns and smaller backyard displays around the neighborhood. I liked playing Army when I was young and the "sound effects" made the perfect background for a pretend battle. Hearing those summer sounds today brings back those old memories and also makes me think of how the Fourth is different (and also the same) for The Little Monster compared to when I was a Monster Kid.
I don't really recall a lot of well-established Fourth of July rituals and traditions in my family. I'm sure we did have some (like our other holiday parties and get-togethers throughout the year), but it seems like they were starting to fade out by the time I came around (I was the youngest of nine children). I do recall some summer cookouts that might have very well been on or around the Fourth. I also remember at least a couple of times that fireworks were brought to our house and set off (and a vague memory of the scary time my sister was burned by one of those fireworks). And I remember going out to firework displays and bonfires in various locales. It seems like every Fourth of July from my early years was different, but the memories are all jumbled and interchangeable in my mind. All except one...
In 1976 I was six when July 4th rolled around. Needless to say, that was a BIG year for the Fourth. America was celebrating its 200th anniversary. The celebration lasted through most of 1975 and 1976, but the country's "real" 200th birthday was on July 4, 1976 of course. I have always had a snippet of a memory that I can't quite confirm is from that Fourth of July, but I'm almost positive that it was. My family was sitting by the side of the road in my hometown of Uxbridge, Massachusetts waiting for the Bicentennial parade to go by. I don't really remember much from the parade itself (or what we did before or after it for that matter) but it always seemed like that was what we were there for. The location is interesting because it wasn't on or near the town's Common--which is where I remember watching nearly every parade I ever saw in town as a kid. This was at the end of a street near where my oldest sister and uncle lived.
It seems a pretty safe bet that this little fragment of a memory is indeed from 1976--mainly because the Fourth of July celebrations in my town didn't usually include a parade. The sheer differentness of this fact is probably why I remember it. And perhaps it's also why I don't remember anything else from that year's celebration. For the most part the rest of my early Fourth of July memories are interchangeable and could be from pretty much any Fourth of July from the mid- to late-1970s. This parade memory is such a fleeting and isolated memory that I feel I need to "exercise" it to make sure it stays with me. It seems that every year at this time I recall this special parade, but now I'm kind of afraid that the only real memory I (believe) I have from the Bicentennial might fade as it's replaced with other information constantly filling my head. I liken the "exercising" of this memory to taking a stick out of a campfire and blowing on the glowing embers at the end to keep them from going out. It won't be long before the ember will grow dark and cold if you forget to blow on them. I don't want that to happen to my little Bicentennial recollection.
Now it's time to discuss what's different about today's Fourth of July celebrations. Obviously the 1970s and the 2010s differ in many ways. But for the most part, my personal memories of Fourth of July celebrations from my youth are filled with things pretty similar to the stuff The Little Monster is experiencing now: family, friends, food, fun, and fireworks. Up until this year The Little Monster was terrified of fireworks and wanted nothing to do with them or their noise. Two nights ago we took the girls to our town's Fourth of July celebration and fireworks display. The Little Monster put on a brave face all day, insisting that she did indeed want to see the fireworks, but we had our doubts. I'm happy to report that she had a great time (even though we were relatively close to the action--and the noise). She didn't cry at all, and barely even covered her ears!
So, if The Little Monster's Fourth of July experiences are so similar to my early ones, then what exactly is different? One word... SPARKLERS! I remember that every Fourth of July celebration when I was growing up included sparklers for the kids to go along with the fireworks the adults would be setting off. How I loved waving those magical things around in the air, watching the sparks fly. Those little metal wands which looked (and acted) quite a bit like welding rods were an important part of those long-ago celebrations. Apparently they have been deemed too dangerous for kids over the past couple of decades, and you don't seem to see them much anymore (at least not in Massachusetts). I can kind of understand this. After all, these "toys" were ignited with fire (matches or a lighter) and then threw off a shower of real, honest-to-goodness sparks. They were also red-hot while in full glory. I never witnessed anyone being hurt by sparklers, but I'm sure some kids did get careless with them and got burned.
Back in the 1970s getting burned by a sparkler would be considered learning a valuable lesson (I'm sure those kids that got burned were a lot more careful the next time--if they ever picked up another sparkler). These days the possibility of getting hurt--and the ensuing lawsuits--make the fun and excitement of playing with sparklers (a fun which was indeed heightened by the potential dangerousness) something that kids today probably don't get a chance to experience. Understandable to some extent, but kind of sad. I suppose that there are a lot of glow sticks and battery-operated blinking and glowing toys that parents can buy for their kids to wave around at parades and fireworks displays, but it's just not the same.
Note to self: Next year, make it a point to track down and buy a package of sparklers for the Fourth of July!
And, finally, here's a look at our town's celebration of this year's Fourth of July, including just a few moments from the parade as well as part of the fireworks show. This fireworks show was the first one for our Littlest Monster. And it also marked the first time that The Little Monster didn't cover her ears and cry herself through a fireworks display. A special moment, and a special new Fourth of July memory indeed!
It turns out that I was wrong about the memory of the parade as being in 1976 for the Bicentennial. Further research into the past has revealed the truth. Read it here: