When I was a kid, in my world, the 4th of July was bigger than Christmas – I eagerly looked forward to it every year.
The day would start early: our small town put on quite the 4th of July parade. I was up and ready to go by 7am, which was super early in those days. You could feel the excitement in the cool air of that summer morning. My dad, sister, and friend of the family who was like an uncle to me would park near the parade route and then walk to a perfect spot with our folding chairs. My mom usually stayed back to prep for the party.
The parade had a city marching band, color guard, police cars, fire engines, ambulances, horses, antique cars and tractors, as well as some oversized farm equipment. Cheerleaders, community groups, lavish floats – it was all here – and they often threw candy. My sister and I were always ready with brown lunch bags to collect as much as we could.
After the parade, there were games and food booths in the community square. The foot races were my favorite and I usually won. The marching band would play more patriotic songs and water balloon fights would ensue once the sun got to be too much to bear. By 11, it was time to head home for lunch. The party was about to begin.
Lunch was an array of sandwich options to make your own sandwich. Every type of meat, cheese, condiment, several bread options, chips, and pasta salad – my mom sure knew how to entertain. My dad developed the best cooler the world for these parties: fill your washing machine with bags of ice and put pop and beer in it! Then when it all melts, drain and spin!
People started to arrive and lunch was in full swing: my dad’s coworkers came, neighbors, and family friends – it was a full house. There were always enough kids for entertainment and every year was different. Sometimes we’d spend the afternoon at the neighborhood pool, playing in the basement, putting together a concert of patriotic songs, or playing croquet. Dinner was around 5, and you had your choice of a burger, hot dog, or brot – my dad was the grill master and my mom managed everything else. Guests would bring desserts and sides and they never disappointed.
The fireworks didnt start until dark and it felt like it took forever to arrive. We’d drive to the local shopping center – this was the best place to watch – sometimes we’d sit under the bank drive up in folding lawn chairs. In later years, my friends and I would grab old bedsheets and watch the fireworks from the lawn of the funeral home. One year, the pyrotechnics got out of hand and lit the roof of a grocery store on fire. It was quickly put out with minimal damage, but it was the talk of the town for ages. In fact, you could still reference it today and someone would tell their perspective of the event.
After the fireworks, the party was over, all the people were gone. The kitchen was trashed. Everyone was exhausted. I loved every moment of it.
I miss celebrating the 4th in such a grand way. My parents don’t do the parties anymore. It’s too much work, my mom says, and she gets stuck with the prep, serving, and clean up, as my dad is too in the moment to really help. They’re in their 70’s now and they are slowing down. I used to go to Southport for their big celebration, but it feels weird now in this age of MAGA. Watching the fireworks downtown is fun, but it takes two hours to get home afterwards because of traffic. No thanks. Last year my husband and I went to Carolina Beach to watch the tourists set off fireworks illegally on the beach until the cops shut them down.
It’s not the same as when I was a kid.
And it will probably never be again. Yet I’ll always cherish the memories of those Independence Days of yore in my heart.