Celebrate For The Right Reasons

The day was July 4, 1963. As my feet hit the cool linoleum floor in the bedroom I shared with two sisters, I thought about the day ahead. As I descended the stairs, I could hear my parents already busy in the kitchen. It required the better part of the morning to get ready for the backyard picnic that would consume the afternoon and deep into the night.

It was a Thursday — a rare occasion that our dad was home on a weekday and not at the newspaper office. I truly believe that next to Christmas, the Fourth of July was our dad’s favorite holiday to celebrate. And celebrate he did.

Perhaps it was the carefree nature of July Fourth that was most appealing. Let’s face it, the day was meant for fun, food and family. Oh, and let’s not forget the fireworks. They started rather harmlessly with those black charcoal-like tablets that turned into crispy snakes when you put a match to them. Our dad didn’t even mind that the snakes left black marks on the sidewalk. A summer thunderstorm would dispatch the evidence overnight.

Firecrackers of my youth were scary things. They ranged from strips of noisemakers to the cherry bombs and M-80s capable of taking off a finger or hand. But all day long, you could hear them going off or see the inevitable smoke bombs they created. I was a content 9-year-old waiting for dusk when we would be handed lighted sparklers to whirl about the yard. We would create a psychedelic illusion when we used those sparklers as if we were directing a symphony. A bucket of water was always at hand to douse the burning embers left when all the sparkle ran out.

Hours before sparkler time, we would be put to work making the backyard ready for the untold number of guests who frequented our enormous picnic table. The table sat beneath a tree large enough to offer welcome shade on a usually steamy July 4. The grass was cut days ahead to ensure the proper footing for the baseball game that usually broke out. We were lucky to have a backyard large enough that it also accommodated the popular horseshoe pit and badminton net. All of these attractions would be filled with players by mid-afternoon when the picnic got underway.

Our dad would man the charcoal grill that often sent smoke spewing through the screens of the kitchen windows. He had his favorite spot for the grill where he could cook up dozens of hot dogs, burgers and his favorite chicken livers wrapped in bacon. That’s the only way any of us ever ate liver.

My sisters and I would be tasked with shucking several dozen ears of corn.

Watermelons were placed in coolers for later. As guests began to arrive, carrying even more plates of food, the Fourth of July was about to explode with our dad’s favorite event. With an ample audience watching, he would bring out the small cannon that he fired off every Fourth of July. I was never sure where this prized attraction came from, but it was part of the tradition as was potato salad and Kool-Aid.

Our dad was a proud American. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He fought at the Battle of the Bulge and carried its wounds with him until he died. I wish he were here today to ask him what he would think of his beloved country now. Then again, I don’t think he could bear seeing the American flag being burned and war monuments trashed. It would be enough to silence even his cannon.

Please keep the red, white and blue in the Fourth of July for all the right reasons.

Heather Ziegler can be reached at hziegler@theintelligencer.net.


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