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.