July 4th, 1976 (a LOOOONG essay)
This is, believe it or not, a shortened version of something I wrote for a friend's magazine. I realize I'm asking for your indulgence, but it had a theme or two that seemed to apply here. I thought it might stir some of your memories or you might even enjoy the read. Again, thanks for your indulgence.
July 4th, 1976 was one the best days of my life.
Or at least thatís the way I remember it.
As an adult, I generally have to work on the 4th. Its rarely a special holiday anymore. But every year, I think back to that one day when red, white and blue streamers decorated my Huffy bike and the smell the burgers mixed with charcoal and I smile.
We never really celebrated the 4th in my family. We might go see fireworks and even had the occasional barbeque, but it was not a day I waited for in anticipation. It paled compared to Chrismas, Thanksgiving and the like. Except for about 3 years beginning in 1974.
I think three factors combined to make the 4th a bigger event in my world during this period.
First was the fact that we lived in Philadelphia.
I'm sure America's Bicentennial was a big deal all across the country, but it felt like we were almost taking credit in the City of Brotherly Love. And that pride started to swell well before 1976. So, like much of Philadelphia, we started to take our responsibility as the progenitors of America, and consequently the holiday, a bit more seriously
The other factor was, again, where we lived, but more specifically- Neshaminy Woods apartments in Croydon, PA.
We moved a lot when I was growing up. A LOT. By the time I was 15, I had moved 13 times. For some reason that Iím sure made sense in 1974, we landed in Croydon and didn't leave until 1977. It was the first time in my life in which I wasn't the new kid at school. I had the same friends in the same neighborhood with the same routines. That type of stability helps a kid be a kid more than one might realize.
This also happens to coincide with the years of my childhood that seem to focus around the Mego Corporation and their products.
Mego really seemed to be hitting its stride in 1976 and I really think that rounded out the memory. Sure, '77 was a great year for Mego, but by 1976 they had all kinds toys a superhero-obsessed boy could, well, obsess over.
I can't really recall the day's itinerary, but I do know it included a few things that make summer the basis upon which most of our warm, fuzzy nostalgic memories are founded. I just know that, at some point in the day, I zipped up on the aforementioned bedecked bicycle to the apartment complexís picnic area. I would have pulled off that classic kid move where you step off the moving bike, balancing momentarily on one pedal before allowing the bike to crash on to the gound while smoothly stepping onto the ground. Damn, that was cool. I would have been coming from either the pool or playing Megos with George Rafferty, my cohort during this glorious time. Most likely the pool.
Most summer mornings, Iíd start my day at the pool. Weíd convince Charlene the lifeguard to let us in early so we could assume the duties of vacuuming the pool and checking the waterís PH level. Doing either was truly an honor for which a lot of the kids competed. It also meant access to that suburban oasis a full hour early. In retrospect, it probably wasnít all too hard to convince Charlene to let us do some of things she was getting paid to do. Even knowing that, I still beam at the accomplishment. Once in the life-giving water, weíd usually stay put until at least 3 or 4 in the afternoon (barring any of else stepping on one of the old soda can pull tabs). But July 4th was different. Lunch would have been around noon and that meant heading over to the barbecue.
Our world was pretty much limited to the apartment complex. Not that I remember ever really wanting to wander very far from Neshaminy Woods. It was a classic suburban complex, but a little bigger. There were a few roads winding through it, creating islands containing apartment stuff- buildings, the pool are, a tennis court and the dayís main destination, the barbeque area. It held 3 standing grills, big enough for several hamburgers and several of those wood and concrete picnic table/bench combinations. It was really the only time outside of the big 3 fall and winter holidays that my extended family got together. In all honesty, I wasnít really excited about seeing them, but their presence made it an official big deal.
Weíd play wiffle ball or Frisbee (no flying disc for us!) to make room for the next burger, chicken leg or cob of corn. The soda was always the generic supermarket brand with enough sugar to energize us until the next school year. Evel Knievel might even have jumped the stunt cycle over Batmanís famed wheels at some point. (Megos werenít the only toys to make an appearance that day) And at some point we risked life and limb, breaking out the holidayís most dangerous celebratory accoutrement- sparklers.
You have to realize that my motherís one outstanding skill was worrying. She learned it from her mother who I am sure learned from her mother. This skill was not something that one person could develop. It was actually, in fact, a set of complex set of skills that had been tested and refined over generations of mothers. Even before the first sparkler was lit, we were told tales of other kids, now deformed and socially shunned, who mishandled these silver and gold hazards. Aside from the sun-like heat they produced, sparklers were on pointy metal rods that could pierce any layer of shirt, pant or shoe. Of course, it was no cause for concern that we used her lighter to set them a blaze.
You know, we never saw any fireworks that night. We spun the crap out of those sparklers and enjoyed their trails as we speared those sharp metal rods in the evening sky, but no fireworks. It was one of the best days I can remember. Iím sure Iíve added some things and removed some of the less pleasant. You know I donít remember missing those fireworks that day. And looking back, I still donít.
WANTED - Solid-Boxed WGSH's, C.8 or better.