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Red, White, Blue Days

It began with talk about the snakes. If you’re thinking of the warm slithering kind of reptiles, you’d be wrong. Recent talk in the newsroom was about the Fourth of July and those fat, round tablets that you light on fire and they erupt into long, black curls of snakes. They were as fragile as Tinkerbell and would blow away with the wind if it was such a weather day.

My siblings and I watched as our dad lit those snakes and eventually allowed us to do so as well. The real fun was lighting as many as we could at one time to fill the sidewalk and yard with “snakes.” It was cheap entertainment for us and the neighbor kids who hung out in the Hamms’ backyard.

The Fourth of July snakes were a harmless portion of the Independence Day holiday that we marveled at as kids and still enjoy today. The only down side of these magical objects was the black smudges they left on the sidewalk and hands if you tried to pick them up.

Sparklers were a whole other ballgame. While beautiful in the dark July night, sparklers are still pretty dangerous as they reach very high temperatures that can burn. But we would never wimp out and held the sparklers until they fizzled out. We learned to “draw” in the night sky by swirling our arms around while holding the sparklers. Again, it was dazzling fun on the cheap. We learned it’s best to keep a bucket of water around to dispose of the hot sticks that held such wonder for all ages.

But nothing was and is better than going to the local fireworks displays held on July 4. It didn’t matter where you lived along the Ohio River, fireworks filled the sky on the Fourth. Before Heritage Port was developed along Water Street in downtown Wheeling, crowds would gather along that riverbank area to watch the annual fireworks display. In those days, the fireworks were shot off from the Wheeling Suspension Bridge and later from a barge on the river.

The Wharf Parking Garage — which has long since met the wrecking ball — was considered the prime location to establish a viewing spot for the fireworks. You had to arrive well before dusk to claim a decent spot with folding lawn chairs and blankets.

There was nothing fancy about those holidays, just good old American pie fun. People always stood for the national anthem. No one had to remind the men and boys to remove their caps. And hands were placed over hearts when directing our words to Old Glory.

Sometimes as the Wheeling fireworks were lit, the sky over Martins Ferry or down river would light up with their shows and it became a triple feature night. If there was any trouble within these crowds, we never saw it. For the most part, people were simply happy to celebrate the country that had held so much promise and was still growing. Be safe and show your country some much-needed love this Fourth of July.

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

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