Thursday, July 4, 2013

4th of July Memories, by Bonnie Mansell

       It has been quite awhile since we have published any stories on this blog. Here is an early memory of my family’s celebration of Independence Day. Do you have one to share?

When I was young, mom and dad took us to Grandma and Grandpa’s hillside home in Monterey Park. All the aunts, uncles, and cousins were there as we celebrated America’s Freedom.
In the afternoon, while it was too light for “real” fireworks, Grandpa would take the kids into the garage, near his workbench and get out some small black tablets. He’d put them on the garage floor, and light them with a “punk,” a sort of slow-burning lighter.
Sometimes it was a little hard to get them going, but once they ignited, the tablets would begin to glow and grow, producing long “snakes” of ashes with a peculiar pungent odor. Sometimes he’d let us do the honors of lighting these mild “fireworks” and I suppose we were more excited than these little glow worms deserved, but it was all  part of the day’s energy.
All day we waited in anticipation for the sun to go down so we could begin the “real” fireworks. After a meal of hamburgers, picnic style salads, beans, and watermelon, we brought blankets, chairs, and popcorn onto the front lawn as Dad and the uncles got the show ready to begin.
They took turns lighting the fireworks, dashing out of the way once the sparks began to fly. A pinwheel on the peach tree, a piccolo Pete piercing the night, fountains, roman candles – all these filled the night with excitement, laughter and wonder.
But the best part always came at the end, when the sparklers came out, turning us into magicians with our wands. We wrote our names in fire on the dark night, trying desperately to get the last letter written before the first one faded. Impossible, of course, but we never stopped trying.
Grandma and Grandpa moved from that house when I was quite young. The scene was recreated in other places over the years, but the house in Monterey Park is where my memory is most vivid, most filled with magic.
When Steve and I had children of our own, we took them to my mom and dad’s home, where we ate hamburgers on the patio and watched fireworks in the front yard after dark. Later, the party moved to our house and began to include the neighbors. For many years we had an annual 4th of July block party, everyone bringing something to share.
The tradition faded and died for many years, and we have been celebrating the 4th with a swim party/barbeque at Pam and Joan’s house, ending the day with chairs on the lawn at Downey High Football Stadium, enjoying the community fireworks display.
But today we are returning to the neighborhood barbeque. It’s a whole new set of neighbors and we have passed the baton of hosting the event to the younger families. I look forward to getting to know some of the people I pass every day. And I hope the children enjoy the sparklers.


  1. I enjoyed reading the slice of Americana that you so vividly discribe. Yes, the sparklers were like magical sticks in the night.
    Thanks for taking me to your hillside and sharing such a beautiful memory of beautiful freedom being celebrated.

  2. A great rememberance! I remember simular days when I was young. The simpleness of those sparklers are memories of past days gone forever. Sparklers and those snakes were the only fireworks I had. The sparklers were much longer than those of today and my dad never wanted the snakes on the sidewalks because of the black marks they left.

  3. From Charlene:

    Bonnie, a most enjoyable writing about how your family celebrated our country's precious freedom. It brought me back to my little girlhood when I also watched the "snakes" grow. The only other fireworks we had were sparklers, but they were always plentiful. I like the way you incorporated our various senses. We not only can visualize the brilliant fireworks, but we can hear and smell them as well. Our tastebuds are also tickled with your description of your traditional picnic meal. The love of family and friends and how you have adapted to change over the years are also delightful throughout your story.

  4. From Peggy ~
    Dear Bonnie, Your story about your 4th of July happenings over the years really sparkles! It throws me into the excitement you used to feel and of how that experience changed as the years progressed. From the little kids enjoying the "worms" and the crowning joy of the evening, the sparklers, to the kids becoming parents and the givers of these joys to their own kids and grand kids; and your memories of family, some of them no longer present, ever alive in your own nostalgic mind.

    I get your feeling of how the wonder you felt as children changed and matured over the years to include much more - the sense of community - a present community - with a larger participation...those who see the values behind this glorious celebration. Thank you, Peggy Knorr

  5. From Ginger:

    Good family memories.

  6. From Charlotte:

    Good memories, thank you Bonnie

  7. Family and neighborhood celebrations are among our most wonderful memories. You are so lucky to have both.