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Sparklers, Pie And Magic

Preparations for the Fourth of July holidays of my youth began days before the actual date. There was grass to be mowed, weeds to be pulled, sidewalks to be swept and coolers to be rescued from the basement.

The kiddie pool in the backyard would be filled early in the day to allow the sun to warm the water. The littlest of the clan would enjoy sitting in that pool while we attempted to keep the family dogs from jumping in with the toddlers.

Dozens of ears of corn were to be shucked, and the largest of kettles would be readied on the stove to cook this must-have picnic side dish. The refrigerator would be crammed with the potato salad, relish trays, Jello and other foods that would line the long picnic table in the backyard. Huge watermelons waited in coolers to be sliced.

The extra large packages of hot dogs were in the fridge along with many hamburger patties we hand-formed to fit the grill. Huge containers of Kool-Aid and lemonade were made and stored in coolers along with cans of Big-K pop.

Extra long tablecloths that Mom had pieced together would be placed on the picnic table. All of this was done to prepare for another epic July Fourth backyard picnic.

Sometimes I think it was one of our most anticipated celebrations of the outdoor season. In addition to our own large family, the backyard would be filled with friends and neighbors. Each time another guest or family rounded the corner to the backyard, greetings would be called out as if royalty had entered the party.

And without fail, each guest brought along another side dish or dessert. No picnic would be right without plates of brownies, Aunt Louise’s lemon meringue or berry pies and lots of Rice Krispy treats. No one counted carbs on July Fourth.

Our Dad was the main operator of the grill and he introduced us to a number of his “specialties” including bacon wrapped chicken livers cooked crisp over the white-hot charcoal. He would spend hours basting whole chickens on the rotating spit on his humble grill while his transistor radio was blaring out a Pirates baseball game.

Baseball and kickball games would be held along with volleyball challenges. We ate, played, laughed and enjoyed the simple pleasures of suburban American life. Then as dusk began to fall across the steamy backyard, our Dad would delight us with a few magic tricks that some of us only learned his secrets when we were grown with kids of our own.

Every Fourth was capped off with the viewing of fireworks from the Wharf Parking Garage at Wheeling’s waterfront. Then home to sparklers in the now empty backyard and then off to bed believing we lived in the best country in the world.

I still believe that today but I only wish we could go back to simpler times. Have a safe and happy Fourth of July and remember why we are celebrating.

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


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