Friday, July 3, 2009

4th of July Memories

Growing up in the suburbs of Detroit, the 4th of July was a day where we planned some kind of family outing to mark the glory of independence. That would include the Detroit River fireworks extravaganza, a Pop's concert at Meadowbrook Hall and finally the "Gary Newtson Drove to Canada and Smuggled Back Illegal Fireworks" show which always occurred when most of the world was heading to bed.

A few pops, sizzles and pows later, Jack Cornell would come barreling through the bushes that divided our properties threatening to call the police. Jack, whom we always called Jackpot due to a beer belly that would make a 3rd trimester pregnant woman proud, liked to drink a little. He was a staunch high school principal by day, but by 5 p.m., Jackpot was letting his hair down. By midnight, he loved everyone and everything and all he really wanted to do was light off a bottle rocket or two ( as long as they don't land in my pool damnit!)

Dick Jones would show up moments into the show carrying his british flag and a whole cadre of his own illegal fireworks, "To show you chaps that we really are still in charge!" And the grown males behaving like 10 year old boys hijinks ensued usually with the cops making a few passes in front of the house and ending with the adults sitting in Jackpot's cabana while we kids swam in the pool until 2 a.m. telling the officer standing at the pool gate, "Why yes, we saw someone was shooting off fireworks but we have no idea who. . . occifer."

Those were the "Big City" days. Now, my 4th of July's are spent in Mt. Morris, Illinois. The parade starts at 1 p.m. with people staking their claim along the parade route the night before - setting up chairs and spreading blankets. Remarkably other people respect this process and no ones stuff gets taken or even moved!

The Mt. Morris parade is a LONG parade lasting a good hour. No parade there is ever complete without the Shriner's zipping by in the airplane 3 wheelers, threatening to mash the toes of those in the way. The Shriner's do a lot of good with their hospital programs but they do even better in the parade arena. They come complete with their own keg equipped bus that follows behind them in the parade, collects them at the end and ushers them off to their next gig. . .while they work on draining the keg. The number of parades scheduled before Mt. Morris determines just how drunk they are when they whiz by us. It's a known and accepted given. Get Jimmy off the street and away from the curb, the Shriner's have been to 3 parades already!

The tried and true sign that the parade is coming to an end are the horses. When the various riding clubs, ranches and miniature horse breeders come through, it's your signal to stand up. The final entrant is the manure wagon which is pulled by 2 kids while 2 more shovel up the horse pies and throw it in the wagon. No one leaves until the manure wagon has passed and you have offered appropriate applause to the kids who are shoveling the poop.

The parade is followed by a 4 hour eating and drinking fest presided over by -Papa Ken and Grandma Gerry. The meal starts with Pat's Hootless Wings ( wings prepared like Hooters, but without the Hooter's girl), chips, dips, chicken, hamburgers, brats, salads, and Cindy's pies. Cindy makes the best, bar none, pie crust in northern Illinois and I look forward to them every year.

As the sky begins to darken, you can hear the faint strains of the Mt. Morris "Let Freedon Ring" band playing at the school football field; a signal that it's time to head up there for fireworks. The entire football field and surrounding grounds is packed with families from small towns all over the area seated on blankets or lawn chairs. As the band strikes up the "Star Spangled Banner," everyone stands, then the vehicle carrying the "Let Freedom Ring" queen and her attendants are ferried around the track as she waves to her people. Little girls watch in awe as they imagine that someday it might be them while little boys are running around with sparklers or tossing footballs. But, when the first report of the fireworks is heard, everyone settles down, lying on their backs and watches the most spectacularly colorful display of fireworks ever blossoming in the sky.

It's nice to NOT worry about getting arrested. How do you spend your 4th?
Happy 4th of July, however you spend it!

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