Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Independence Day and All That Jazz

I've come a long way from running up and down 15th Avenue in Mount Vernon with a sparkler in my hand.

Over the course of my life, I've gone through several series of different celebrations for Independence Day, which is really one of the only holidays everybody in this country can celebrate together. There are no religious overtones like Christmas, Easter, or Yom Kippur. It is all about freedom and being an American. Except maybe for your crazy Communist Uncle Oscar, who can't get into that?

So, there were the years for me when I was a kid and I did the sparkler routine like I was some lunatic Rockette on fire. While the other kids in the neighborhood were shooting off cherry bombs, sky rockets, and a very inappropriately named explosive called a "chaser" (with that pesky N word attached---nobody knew any better then), I was relegated to nothing more inflammable than my mother's ash tray. Of course, years later, I still had the ability to attempt to play the piano, while I'm not so sure some of my goofball friends could count their fingers up to ten.

Truth be told, my folks didn't want me anywhere near this stuff.   And, frankly, neither did I.   Around the age of five, I had one previous experience playing with matches.   And the pain has lingered for many, many years.

So we made our own fun in the backyard usually with some relatives over to celebrate.  A big deal was a croquet set that got dragged out as if we were on the Downton Abbey grounds.   This was a big deal for my older cousins to play.   I, however, didn't realize that the object of the game was to tap the ball lightly with your mallet.  This was not a sport where Willie Mays power should have been employed as our broken garage window will attest.
Those July 4 family gatherings in the yard usually found a bunch of relatives lounging in a long line of beach chairs as you see above.   That's my grandfather with the can of beer.   That's me in summer attire with my mom in the background.   The chrome dome is one of my dad's childhood chums.   

This photo of our lawn furniture evokes one of the more ghastly memories.   One year, some screwy distant relative was probably loaded up on Miller High Life and was telling dirty jokes.   Well, I am guessing they were dirty because I didn't understand them.  Nevertheless, raucous laughter erupted from the others.   One lady got so hysterical that she literally shit right through her shorts.   And a mound of crap wound up on that beach chair and it would have made a German Shepherd proud.   In my family, you never threw anything out.  Dad simply washed off the chair and made it "as good as new." For years, I saw that lawn chair with its big, brown stain.   And I never ever sat on it.

I know there were some families that regularly went to see fireworks on the night of July 4th.   Unfortunately, those events usually fell into the vortex of my father's travel restrictions.    All destinations could be ruled out by one of the following stipulations:

It's too far.

It's too crowded.

It's too hot/cold...depending upon the season.

Fireworks displays usually hit the latter two.  But, there was one year where Dad was feeling a little adventurous.

Apparently, the nearby town of Tuckahoe was shooting off some fireworks on a high school field.   Okay, that was close enough.   And how crowded could something in Tuckahoe get?  This excursion was going to be even more special. 

Even Grandma would come along.   

This was momentous as my grandmother never went any place that didn't involve either church, the A and P, or Suchy's Funeral Home in the Bronx. Invitations out of the realm usually got her tried-and-true response.

"I'll stay home."

Well, that July the Fourth, Grandma went with the rest of us to see fireworks. It looked like all of Westchester County had converged on the Tuckahoe High School football bleachers to watch this. The usual ooohs and aahs. When it was over, the throng exited en masse. There was no room to move. My mother instructed me to hold onto my grandmother's hand for dear life. I did so.

As I exited the crowd to meet the rest of my entourage, I was alone. Somehow, my hand was no longer attached to my grandmother's.

"Oh, great! You lost your grandmother!"

My fault again. Moments later, Grandma emerged from the melee. Unscathed and not amused.

"Next year, I stay home."

She turned to look at me.


When I got older, I outgrew firecrackers and found myself spending the Fourth of July in some baseball park. And, to enjoy this truly American sport on this truly American holiday, I wasn't choosy about the stadium I would enter. Whoever was playing home was where I would be. Shea Stadium. Yankee Stadium. I didn't care. It was baseball and sometimes fireworks and always perfect. 

I can remember one year there was a doubleheader for the Mets and Tom Seaver took a no-hitter into the ninth inning. One other year, there was a day game at Yankee Stadium, where it was hotter than hell and there was an explosion of gnats on the field level.

Nowadays, I am in my Hollywood Bowl/July 4 phase of life. Unless the Dodgers are home and shooting off some shit on the day, I am seated upon the hill that overlooks Highland. Listening. Absorbing. Enjoying. And, tomorrow night, it will happen one more time.  The musical act will be Chicago...or whatever passes for Chicago in 2016.   I am guessing there will be a bunch of 70-year-olds in the aisle, slow dancing to "Color My World" like they're back at the North Hollywood High junior prom.

Whatever.   I will enjoy once again the wonders of fireworks and July 4.   Hopefully, I won't get so excited that I mess the seat I'm sitting in.

Dinner last night:  German cold cut sandwich and pickled beets.

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