The Fourth of July Fun Memories & Life Lessons
‘Every kid’s fantasy rolled into one’
Boomer reader Michele Minott waxes nostalgic as she recalls the wonders of Fourth of July from a kid’s perspective. The wonderland of fun was a part of her family’s annual summers in Rockaway Beach. And she also learned lessons about what really mattered in life.
The Fourth of July on Rockaway Beach was every kid’s fantasy rolled into one.
You got to stay up with all the grownups, as, before your eyes, the beach turned into a carnival. Street vendors appeared selling an endless array of goodies. Cotton candy, Cracker Jack, popcorn, ice cream, and piping hot slices of pizza were the order of the day. Then there were glowing, long- stemmed, obligatory Fourth of July paraphernalia called “punks,” that when waved in the air created the illusion of writing. Sometimes we’d hold the punk between our fingers, pretending we were smoking a cigarette.
Lining up with our parents for a front row seat along the heavy iron chains and posts delineating the boardwalk’s edge, we kids would sit on the crossbars, propped up by our dads, punks in-hand, scribbling our initials with our pretend cigarettes burning brightly.
“Cracker Jack! Cracker Jack?” I begged, seeing Cheryl and some of the other kids chomping merrily away.
“We just bought you a punk,” my mother frowned.
“I know, but Cracker Jack is FOOD,” I pointed out, emphasizing the word to make the distinction between mere entertainment and nourishment vital to the health and well-being of every young child.
“Well, food or not,” my mother reasoned, “it’s all coming out of one budget.”
“It’s okay,” my dad smiled, “Just this once. I caught a ride home with Jack and saved the extra train fare.”
My mother chuckled, shaking her head. “You two! All right. Just this once, for a special occasion.”
The magic of fireworks – and family
Then all fell silent, as overhead the fireworks burst before us. Shooting up like a fountain of gems in the sky, dripping sapphires, emeralds, and rubies. Then falling to earth and fading away, as new colors lit up the heavens. On and on and on it went, filling parents and children alike with a sense of excitement and wonder. Then all at once it was gone. The curtain came down, as weary children fought sleep from their eyes, and dads carried them on their shoulders.
“Pony ride?” I asked, looking up at my dad.
He shook his head. “It’s been a long day.” Then, seeing my crest-fallen face, amended, “Half-way, and that’s my best offer.”
I agreed, and he hoisted me up to the sky, where I happily perched on his shoulders.
Slowly, my mother, my dad, and I threaded our way through the crowd, down the street that led back to Mrs. Moss’ cottage rentals.
The Good Humor ice cream vendor was there, and a throng of children assembled. “I’ve got a twin stick,” Cheryl bragged, as I slid down beside my father.
I could see my parents deliberate, as I watched and waited in silence. “You’ve had a lot of sweets tonight,” my mother was quick to point out.
A lesson of this Fourth of July from a kid’s perspective
“Now if you were to share some with your parents,” my father added, smiling.
Before I could get a single word out, Cheryl broke into a mocking little chant: “Baby! Baby! Has to share with her Mommy and Daddy!”
Pretending she wasn’t even there, I turned to my parents. “That’s okay,” I said with a smile. “I’m too tired for ice cream anyway.” Then, kissing each of them on the cheek, I whispered, “Goodnight,” and headed up the porch stairs to our second floor apartment.
“I can stay up as late as I want!” Cheryl called after me.
“No one was speaking to YOU,” I replied pointedly, over my shoulder.
All at once, another voice broke through the night air. “CHERYL! You come home right now!” called her visibly angry father. He’d stepped out on the porch of their shabby gray shingled cottage, in time to observe her outburst.
“I don’t have to!” she challenged. “Mom said I can stay up as late as I want. And you can’t MAKE me!” she added, hands on hips.
By then her father had heard quite enough and, striding right up to the street where she stood, scooped her up under his arm like a parcel meant for mailing. Red-faced, arms flailing, she kicked and screamed, as my stunned parents looked on in silence. The rest of the neighborhood looked on too, observing from their porches.
From inside the screen door of Mrs. Moss’ cottage, I could hear her scream, “I’m gonna tell Ma!”
“You DO that!” her father shot back, his sharp voice slicing through the still July night, like a razor blade through butter.
The grandmas assembled on the front porch shook their heads, pursing their lips, knitting needles loudly clicking their disapproval.
Whatever glee I might have felt at the public toppling of Cheryl was soon overshadowed by the realization that her bravado and pushy ways were a lot like those of her family. A family that seemed not to care at all that their quarrels and discord spilled into the street from their front porch and open windows.
The grandmas would whisper words like “common” and “crude” whenever their voices erupted.
My envy of Cheryl’s independence soon evaporated as I thought of my own mom and dad, who were patient and fair when enforcing rules, and treated each other with kindness.
Though the ice cream would have tasted good, and staying up late was exciting, I decided I liked my own parents better than hers, and that was more important.
Michele Minott is a Brooklyn born baby boomer who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s. Her parents cultivated in me a love of the arts. “Singing and writing gave me the comfort, clarity, and sense of empowerment I didn’t always find in life,” she recalls. “I even got to have the last word!” Minott has shared other nostalgic essays with Boomer readers: “Rockaway Days,” “The Sweet Shop,” and “The Charity Show.”
Read more childhood memories from Michele Minott and other contributions from Boomer readers in our From the Reader department.
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