No matter how old I am, my most vivid Fourth of July memories are of the family reunion parties on my mother’s side at my Uncle Cecil and Aunt Nora’s house.
All through the 70s and 80s, we’d spend every Fourth of July there, with pretty much every other relative on my mom’s side of the family. They came from all over the Thumb to Cecil and Nora’s house, which was decked out with an American flags…although I seem to recall it had only 48 stars on it (no joke). Back then, themed parties were not the ridiculous productions they’ve become today. You put up your flag, open your garage door, get some red, white and blue napkins and plastic cups and PRESTO! Instant party!
It seemed like HUNDREDS of people crowded into that yard every year, and it always felt like this was THE place to be on the Fourth of July! All my grandmother’s brothers and sisters were there with their families. My grandmother was one of about nine or 10 kids, so maybe I wasn’t exaggerating about that “hundreds” remark.
As kids, my brother Shawn and I would spend most of our time with our cousins playing jarts and other yard games. Nothing like throwing large, metal, missile-like darts at your cousins from 20 feet away, eh? What could possibly go wrong???
When we got older, we rode our bikes over to the house and would skip over to a nearby park to play tennis.The biggest topic of discussion for us: “Where are you going to watch the fireworks?” Bay City was and is legendary for its Fourth of July fireworks.
Everyone brought a dish and a huge buffet was set up in the garage with all the typical cookout foods: potato salad, pasta salad, some sort of Jell-O concoction, grilled hotdogs and hamburgers (or “hamburgs,” as everyone in Bay City seems to call them) and so on. When it came time to eat, you grabbed a paper plate, filled it with as much as you could carry and found the nearest lawn chair.
For a kid, it was great. We’d spend all day running around with next to no supervision, pretty much doing whatever we wanted…as long as we didn’t leave the yard. There were rows and rows of coolers filled with sodas and beers lined the driveway and it was all there for the taking (we were way too young to sneak beers).
When it got closer to dusk, we’d run around the yard with lit sparklers in hand. I’m sure someone had firecrackers, but I was all about the sparklers. I still remember vividly dropping one in the grass when I was about four or five years old and trying to pick it up from the wrong end. I only made that mistake once.
Back then, it seemed like the whole world stopped and spent the entire day leisurely celebrating the holiday. As I got older, those family reunions dwindled. Less people would make the drive to Bay City. Jobs got in the way and, well, people got older, more frail and just couldn’t make it. But for that stretch of time from about 1976 – 86, during my impressionable years, Fourth of July was a fun day I looked forward to as much as Christmas.
No matter what I do on this or any other Fourth of July, I’ll always think about being a kid at Uncle Cecil and Aunt Nora’s house. I really wish I had some photos to share from those days.
Happy Fourth of July, everyone.