Fourth of July-Panhandle Style
Our Fourth of July was pleasant (pleasant-that means uneventful, which at my age is what I prefer), but it did bring back gentle memories of years past.
Up in the Panhandle, other than Christmas, the one holiday we youngsters looked forward to was the Fourth of July, Independence Day.
That was the day for which we’d hoard our pennies for strings of Black Cat firecrackers, rockets, Roman candles, torpedoes, cherry bombs, and sparklers.
Always, families gathered, sometimes at the park with other picnickers and other times at one of our homes where the women would sit in the house and bring each other up to date on family and neighbors, and the men would squat in the shade of the old oak out back, sipping beer or whatever other beverage was handy.
Out-of-town families came early, and usually there were so many that mattresses were spread on the floors and even in the yard to accommodate sleepers.
The Fourth was the one day the adults just about ignored us youngsters, knowing as long as they could hear firecrackers popping that no one had drowned in the creek or had been run over by a passing car.
Those holidays in the years right after the war were the ones I remember most vividly for all the men had fought overseas. Some had been wounded, but they all returned except one. They celebrated their survival and commemorated their kin’s death—long into the night.
Now, me and my cousins were typical boys. Today, the idiot doctors and wimpish parents would consider us ADHD or ADD. We were boisterous, loud, prying, and daring. Nothing could hurt us. Of that we were certain. I admit, we might have been a little too rowdy, but instead of Ritalin, our folks used a much more memorable medicine, Leather Belt. Believe me, it cured whatever was bothering us at the time.
Too bad parents today have forgotten it.
Daytime was firecracker time. One of the contests we had was seeing who could blow a tin can highest into the air. It was a simple contest. We’d place a firecracker under an empty can and touch it off.
One of the problems we faced was running out of matches. One match, one firecracker. My older cousin solved the dilemma by stealing a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes from an uncle and distributing them to us. We’d light up, and usually could go through a whole string of Black Cats with one cigarette.
Sometimes we became destructive, not deliberately but while experimenting with our firecrackers. One cousin decided that if we could blow cans into the air, we could do the same thing to rocks stuffed down a pipe.
We huddled around that experiment out between the garage and my uncle’s glassed-in chicken brooder (yeah, the same one I shot the knob off while playing Dick Tracy, but that’s another story) while my cousin dropped a handful of rocks in a two-inch pipe about a foot long and stuck a firecracker at the other end. When he lit it, he jammed the firecracker end against the garage wall. Well, the only way the pipe could point was at the brooder.
I’ll say this. The experiment worked beautifully. Of course, it shattered the brooder. His dad gave him a blistering dose of Leather Belt, made him sit with the men for a few minutes, then turned him loose again. Retribution back then was quick and painful.
We coveted cherry bombs for they would explode under water. We’d tie one end of a string around a sealed jar and the around a rock heavy enough to sink it. That was our submarine, and the cherry bombs were our depth charges. Sometimes we’d put Rit dye inside the jar so when we blew it up, the stain would float to the surface just like in the movies.
Occasionally Roman candle fights would erupt with our chasing each other around the yard, ignoring the men cussing us when random balls fell into their midst, sending them scrambling.
At night we set off the rockets, mesmerized by their graceful flaming arcs into a black sky filled with glittering diamonds. In the back of every one of our hooligan heads as we watched the rocket was the wonder of what travel through space was like.
I imagine if we did that today, we’d all be arrested, sued, and Al Sharpton would find some way to make it a racial problem. Or else, the cops would get us for acts of terrorism.