Sunday, July 3, 2011

Ice Cream, Snakes and Fountains

On this Independence Day weekend, I wanted to share with you some of the 4th of July holiday memories from my childhood. Yours may be similar, and there may be something in this narrative that causes you to recall a special moment from long ago. At my current age, those memories have become sweetened with time. Looking back on it all, the summer heat from those days doesn't seem quite so overwhelming, the worries of life aren't recalled as being so imposing, and the world seemed to be spinning at a slightly slower speed. It was a time I would go back to in a heartbeat if it were possible to do so. But alas, the only way to do that is to relate the story to you, my readers, and hope you will join me in remembering it.

I grew up in a blue-collar family. My father was a plumber, my mother a stay-at-home mom. Along with our parents, my two younger sisters and I lived in a modest, 3-bedroom home in a middle class neighborhood. Having grown up during The Great Depression, Mom and Dad were frugal, although my father would occasionally spend a little extra at the grocery store and purchase steaks or ribs or shrimp for a special occasion. And the Fourth of July was special enough.

As the warm afternoon continued toward evening, and the Black Cat firecrackers started popping on the neighborhood streets, my dad would start cooking. He didn't put much faith in an outdoor barbecue grille, and he did most of his cooking on our Roper gas range in the kitchen. He usually opted for barbecued ribs on July 4th, and he also made his own barbecue sauce. Unfortunately, I didn't think ahead and get the recipe before it was too late. Naturally, there would be some southern style (my parents were from Tennessee) fried potatoes and some refreshing sweet iced tea (with fresh lemon) to go along with that evening meal.

After supper we would go out in the back yard. Some years there would be a big, dark green, Black Diamond watermelon to enjoy. And sometimes, instead of the watermelon, my mother would bring out the big silver cylinder containing the ice cream mixture, and Dad would put it into the old-fashioned ice cream maker. You may remember: the bucket with the crank handle on it? The one you had to sit on while someone cranked it? A little ice and a little rock salt went in next, and the cranking began. It was a slow process, ice cream making, and a bit boring. If you could find a fairly clean and clear piece of rock salt, you snatched it from the ice and sucked on it while you cranked. Forever it seemed.

Within a while (which always seemed longer than it should be) Dad would say it was time for the cranking to stop. He would remove the cylinder from the ice and carefully pry the top off. A moment later, the deliciously cold cream was being scooped into special bowls for all to enjoy. An occasional brain freeze was an event that might occur if you ate too fast. But if you didn't eat it fast, you might end up drinking it because it didn't last long in its solid state when the temperature was hovering around the 100 degree mark. As a side note, I actually still have those bowls in my kitchen cabinets today, and they serve as a constant reminder of those days every time I look at them.

Lawn chairs were brought out next, and as the summer day faded and darkness settled in, the show began. We didn't spend a lot on fireworks, and it seems like we always bought the same things: a box of sparklers, a couple of boxes of those black pellets called snakes, a package of Black Cat firecrackers, a couple dozen bottle rockets, and a half dozen "fountains" that were actually nothing more than a paper cone with some stuff inside that just kind of fizzled for a few seconds. And we always got a bunch of those great punks, because they were free. Oh, it was nothing like the high-tech pyrotechnics of today, but for 1957 it was state-of-the-art, and we didn't realize how primitive it was at that time.

The whole neighborhood was lit up with the sparkling displays taking place on every front porch, driveway, and even in the street. Cheers and applause filled the night air when an especially impressive display exploded. It was exciting while it lasted. And when it was over, it was a little disappointing that there was nothing left to blow up. But still, way down deep in your soul there was a warm feeling bubbling up and settling in, and you were suddenly content with nothing more than to be at home with your family.

Do you have specific memories of your summer holidays? If so, leave a comment and tell us about it. It's good to share.

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