Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy Independence Day!

Growing up in a little colonial town was really exciting as a child, especially around the 4th of July. My sister and I would eagerly watch as our neighbor, a seasoned fireman, backed out the treasured antique fire truck he had safely stored in his garage. To us, it was a very special part of the highly anticipated parade held up on Main Street in Chatham, NJ. It was then cleaned and tuned up, making it ready for the big day… .

Way too early in the morning on Independence Day, we’d be awakened by what sounded like bombs being set off throughout town, which would rattle our windows and get us out of bed! Trees lining the curbs of many roads were posted with the usual black and white signs reading: “Emergency No Parking in Street”, although now the bold lettering is in red and more wordy, from what I’ve been told.

Throngs of neighbors lugging aluminum folding chairs would begin climbing streets leading to the center of town, while those who had left their chairs the afternoon before to reserve their spots would leave later for the parade.

Our Mom had always stressed the importance of honoring the many military veterans, volunteer fire and rescue workers, and of course the American flag, as they passed by. We’d do this by standing, saluting, and cheering them on, encouraging those younger than us to do so, as well. A highlight of the parade, herolding it’s end, was a clown setting fire to a small cardboard house. Triumphantly, a fire truck would come to the rescue, extinguishing the smoke while the crowds cheered.

At the park in the afternoon, firefighters would hand out bags of peanuts to long lines of children, tossing any extra bags to the crowds from their trucks. Fireworks were later held at what was then the Boro’s high school. I remember a lot of blue and gold fireworks, which were Chatham High’s school colors. Every year it was displayed: an illuminated “burning” house and fire truck rushing to the scene which thrilled young and old alike. Sirens were provided by one of the fire engines stationed nearby where the pyrotechnics were set up. Silvery white sparklers were the “water” that put the “fire” out.

Villa Park, IL, also had a real sense of close community with a lot of character. My children fondly remember the long parades filled with friends and neighbors they knew, and the interactive, playful water gun—and soaker!—“fights” between certain marchers and viewers that were quite comical to witness. In the evening, we’d head on over to Oak Brook Mall’s west side parking lot, joining the masses already lined along Highway 83 to watch the forthcoming impressive fireworks display.

We found our special niche for watching the displays in Eau Claire, WI, last year. Stumbling upon the beautiful new Phoenix Park over by the RCU building, we were rewarded with impressive views as well as displays without all the crowds that are usually jam-packed in Carson Park.

We all have our special memories of the 4th of July when we were growing up. What are yours? And, how will you be spending America’s birthday, today? --LKR

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