I can’t remember my early July 4th celebrations, although I am sure that they were celebrated at a ball field in what was then known as Litchhaven cabins, located in Litchfield NH. My family left Brookline MA for our summer “home” right after school let out and we stayed until Labor Day. That was before we moved permanently to Sharon, MA in 1950. Due to the fact that Sharon has a pristine lake in its midst, there was no longer need to go away during the summer. Lake Massapoag, which was less than a mile from our door, was circled with summer cottages, small hotels and camps. We could easily walk there without the accompaniment of parents. It was a different time…maybe a better time…certainly a simpler time!
In those years there was a Catholic boarding school in Sharon, which had a large playing field across the street. Each year for the 4th, arrangements were made for a small carnival to set up rides and booths there. Nearby, there was a large wood structure built from old creosoted railroad ties. On the stroke of ‘something’ the torchbearers would set the thing ablaze. It was obviously a time before outdoor burning was outlawed and environmental hazards were considered more important than the thrill of small town bonfires.
I do remember that it was also a time when some of us found comfort in the arms of our boy friends…or at least the boyfriends of the moment with whom another kind of spark was lit. It was more than a celebration it was a time of conflagration. And I shall leave it at that.
After college I married and had two children. My husband’s work required re-location and so in the late’70s we moved to Vienna, Virginia near Washington DC. We chose a July 4th weekend. I have no idea why. We literally had to hire some workers from the labor pool who were willing to unload our huge moving van. One was very old and other a teenager. For fear that our “stuff” would be broken or remain on the van for the entire weekend, my husband and I chipped in and moved the smaller boxes.
Our home was located in a new subdivision next to The Filene Center, now called Wolf Trap National Park. It is a venue for the performing arts. Having spent an entire day in unaccustomed and unbearable heat, we settled down in our back yard to enjoy some refreshments and leisure. After all it was a holiday and we had been hard at work unpacking boxes for hours. Within minutes we were treated to the sound of beautiful music coming from the park. It was lovely.
However after a few more minutes, the first of many rockets exploded over our roof. Non-stop fireworks followed for at least 15 minutes. Colorful displays rained down from the sky .We were taken by surprise as no one had given us a hint that this was going to happen. I must admit it was exciting to be so close to the show in the comfort of our own yard. It was magical. It was July 4th heaven.
After an intermission of a few minutes, the fireworks began anew. Only this time they were accompanied by a symphony orchestra playing the 1812 Overture. We did not know that they used live cannons for the finale. The cannons were positioned away from the audience, closer to us.
The first volley sent me screaming and running. As the music reached its crescendo and the cannons fired rapidly, I screamed even louder. Sparks and flame could be seen through the brush, as smoke drifted through the woods toward our yard. Finally a few neighbors, libations in hand, also drifted our way too.
We learned later that this annual display was kept a secret, as it was some sort of neighborhood initiation ceremony or joke reserved for new comers. I failed to see the humor.
It was a few years later in 1982 that the performing center burned to the ground. Thankfully it was not on the 4th of July. It was unoccupied at the time. The structure was 10 stories high, built of Oregon Cedar. And when it ignited, it was the grand daddy of all bonfires! I believe the source of the fire, which lit this tinderbox, remains unknown. It was as if a bomb had exploded and the sky itself was burning. Fire engines arrived by the dozens. Fortunately for us, the disaster was quickly contained, sparing our neighborhood.
Wolf Trap survives bigger and better than it was back then. Fireworks are held on the Mall in Washington.
As for me, I live New Hampshire now and most likely I will sit on my deck on the 4th listening for a few booms and looking skyward for fireworks in the direction of Hampton Beach. You see, Exeter does not celebrate Independence Day on the 4th of July. We wait two weeks. But that is another story.