4TH OF JULY ON 80TH STREET
by Peggy Ogan Lee
Excitement grows as plans are made for the annual 4th of July picnic. The 15 kids ranging in age from 6 to 16 are looking for ways to make extra money by helping their families. There is an American Legion fireworks stand several blocks away with a wonderful array of firecrackers, fountains, Roman candles and sparklers. When finally earned, the money will be spent very carefully. All of the bicycles with baskets have their tires aired up and are ready to go.
The mothers discuss who will bring fried chicken, potato salad, baked beans, rolls, carrots, celery, cookies, cakes, pies and many surprise goodies. The dads talk about how many picnic tables, card tables, lawn chairs and ice cream freezers will be needed. Volunteers are necessary to collect all of these things from the ten homes in the neighborhood. The equipment and space must be able to accommodate the 60 to 70 people who are coming, as family and friends of the 80th Street neighbors are always included.
As money is earned, amounts are compared until there is enough to warrant the first ride to the fireworks stand. The firecracker cannons have been created with bricks, long pieces of metal pipes and gravel. The first day we buy only firecrackers, saving our money for the pretty fountains, sparklers and Roman candles that will be seen after it gets dark several days later on the 4th.
As soon as we return to 80th Street, the neighborhood dogs disappear to try to avoid the noise. Our parents seem to accept this as part of the early celebration. A lighted firecracker inside the bottom of the iron pipe with a little gravel dropped down the top makes a terrific cannon. Of course, it was aimed at the vacant lot. Another fun contest was to see who could blow a tin can the highest when a firecracker was put under it and lighted in the middle of the street.
July 3rd finds all of us and several parents shopping for a variety of “pretty” fireworks for the next evening. Of course, the morning of July 4th is hot and seems to last forever. In the afternoon we help move tables and chairs into place in the huge back yard. Kids, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends start arriving before 4:00. The men and kids spend time cranking the six or eight ice cream freezers after adding ice and salt as needed. When the crank no longer moves, we grab our spoons to get some of the delicious ice cream left on the paddles as pliers are used to lift them out. More ice and salt are packed in before blankets cover them for freezing harder. The ladies start arranging the array of delicious food on the designated tables. The noisy bang of any remaining firecrackers just cause a momentary stop in conversations.
Finally, it is time to get our plates and make the rounds of the food tables. I usually chose my mother’s fried chicken and potato salad before trying something else. We could have iced tea, lemonade or a glass soft drink bottle that had been cooling in the big metal tub full of ice with bottle openers tied to the side. Life could not be better than this. The ice cream was uncovered when almost everyone was ready for it. Cans of chocolate syrup were available to pour on top of a generous serving of delicious homemade ice cream.
Since no one had heard of daylight saving time, it was dark around 8:00 and we could get out the pretty fireworks. A bucket of water was available for burned-up sparklers. Many oohs and ahhs were heard when the colorful fountains sprayed and the Roman candles shot off as expected. When the glowing punks had nothing left to light, the day was declared a perfect success.
Yard lights came on so everything could be gathered up and sent home with the correct people. Promises were made to get together again soon and “good nights” were said as very weary kids and adults headed home.