My childhood summers didn’t offer much in the way of schedules and structure, because isn’t that how it should be? But the Fourth of July was undoubtedly one of the best and most scheduled days of my summer, with several outfit and scene changes, places to go and people to see!
Breakfast, of course, but a quick one, because I had to don my meticulously prepared patriotic outfit and then make sure that my knee pads, wrist guards and roller blades were in sound working order for the neighborhood parade. Over we trekked a couple streets to join the growing Falmouth Heights crowd, complete with streamered bikes and costumed dogs, all in the colors of our flag, of course. Some announcements and the National Anthem and some instructions, and at this point I just wanted to get the show on the road. And then it would start and we’d weave in and out of the streets and onto Grand Avenue, which ran along the beach. Up Montgomery and past the gnome house, where the nice man would hand out entire Hershey’s Bars to all the kids.
The parade would begin to disperse, and I’d head home to change into my bathing suit, and most likely today we’d pack lunch to eat on the beach. Towels, chairs, toys, wagon, check! And off we’d go, waving to Bill on the way.
The beach was a crowded collection of even more towels, chairs and toys, with hardly a blank space of sand to be found. While I didn’t prefer it to be this crowded every day (where would we play pickle?), this is exactly how it was supposed to be on Independence Day. Hot sand and cool New England water, back and forth, back and forth. And then the ding of the ice cream truck, and then back to the water.
Hours would turn into minutes, and then the bright sun would begin to soften into that magic light of a late Cape Cod afternoon. The beachgoers were thinning out. Maybe we could squeeze in a game of pickle? Dad usually stayed at the beach the latest, and at his cue, I’d head home.
Cleaned up, wet hair post shower and another outfit, red, white and blue (if I was lucky enough to have kept it clean, the parade one). Dinner was seafood and steak and maybe strawberry pie for dessert. Back outside to play until we instinctively knew it was time. Time to grab your windbreaker or sweatshirt, something to sit on and our glow bracelets. Fireworks, fireworks, fireworks–it was time. We’d walk back to the beach to join the ten thousand others, waiting. Hold someone’s hand until I was old enough to walk on my own. Find a spot, find your neighbors. The sand was cold, but I didn’t care. There was the barge, there were the boats. And then we waited.
The first whistle, the first comet. Silence. Then, “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air.” I loved the weeping willow ones, the golden sparks flowing down into the ocean. I could feel the boom in my heart, that pounding sound accompanying the colored stars. Everyone clapped and cheered when it was over; all the boats blew their horns. I loved the spent gunpowder aroma in my nose.
Gather the blankets, and head back home. Walk straight among the crowds, and you’d eventually find your way. And then, s’mores! Whose house this year? We alternated between the neighbor’s and ours. How many would I eat? I preferred my marshmallows well done, burnt crispy but gooey. Some preferred theirs toasted a light golden brown. But there were plenty of grahams and chocolate for everyone.
And then the day’s buzz would start to dwindle as the sounds of firecrackers grew further and further apart. That salty night air replaced the smoke smell, and I’d begin to fade. Time to head to my bed. I was already excited for next year.
This was a Cape Cod Fourth of July, and today I miss everything about it.