When I was a kid in Iowa, holidays meant going to the grandparents, and the Fourth of July was no exception. My dad’s family gathered at my grandparents’ farm where everybody brought a pot luck contribution to the dinner. Grandma made pies, and my mom and aunts brought chicken and potato salad and pickled herring and things involving jello and marshmallows. Some years my grandma made pork salad using a meat grinder and just the right combination of pickles and I don’t know what all.
The Fourth of July meant fireworks, which were mostly illegal in Iowa, except for sparklers and snakes. Snakes were these noxious little round tablets that when lit grew into a long tube of ash which apparently resembled a snake. They were fine, legal, safe fireworks, but they usually left a black ring on the sidewalk where they were lit, and my grandparents’ sidewalk was permanently scarred by those snakes.
On my dad’s side of the family were twelve cousins, eleven of us boys. Some of my older cousins would have illegal Black Cat firecrackers or bottle rockets, and we would fling those around and at each other. I know they’re dangerous, and we’re probably lucky to be alive, but we would put those bottle rockets in Orange Crush bottles and aim them not at the sky but at each other. The firecrackers were a lot more fun when we put them inside a beer can and tried to blow it up or when we flung a lit pack in amongst the chickens. Firecrackers and snakes were good fun all day long.
When darkness arrived, we lit sparklers and, of course, threw them at each other. This was called fun. My grandparents lived a mile from the drive-in theater with only a corn field between their yard and the screen. Since the corn was “knee high by the Fourth of July” we could climb the pear tree and see the movie from their yard, as well as any fireworks that anyone happened to be shooting off in town. The official fireworks were out at the park, or at the racetrack or fairgrounds, I can’t remember, but we couldn’t see them from my grandparents’ farm.
When I was older I hung out with friends on the Fourth of July. That usually involved a van, eight-track tapes, and assorted forms of bad behavior. I remember one time driving around and seeing another car with a guy in the passenger seat hanging his arm out the window and clearly holding a pistol.
In 1997, my wife and I were in Holland for the Fourth of July. The Fourth of July doesn’t mean much there. (“MmmBop” was everywhere that summer, including in Dutch stores.) When we mentioned to shopkeepers that it was a big holiday in America, we might get an “Oh, yeah” of recognition, but that’s about it.
These days the Fourth of July is about family. We usually go to the parade in Mount Prospect, the next suburb over. (The parade scene in our town is kind of crazy. People put down blankets on downtown streets to secure their spots the night before. Homes along the parade route stake out their yards. We go to Mount Prospect instead where everyone gets a place along the curb, no matter when you arrive.)
Our suburb has Frontier Days, a really nice festival with outstanding entertainment. (This year’s line-up is pretty typical: Sawyer Brown, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Here Come the Mummies (?), Bret Michaels, and American English, an excellent Beatles tribute band. When the wind is blowing just right, we can hear the music from our backyard, but it’s also a nice way to spend an evening in the park with lawn chairs, friends, and neighbors. Usually, American English is on the 4th, but this year it’s on Sunday the 7th, so we’ll close out the weekend that way.
It’s beautiful in Chicagoland today, and we’re heading to Mount Prospect in a few minutes. The girls made some cookies. The windows are open, so the yard smells great! Later we’ll cook some sausages and corn on the cob, and the girls are making a watermelon salad. Tonight we’ll either go to the Schaumburg Boomers game and see fireworks there, or head up to Luther Village to watch the Arlington Park fireworks. Or we might just watch a movie in the yard. Being relaxed and together is the main thing.
I hope you and yours enjoy celebrating your independence today, however you want to do it.