Today is the day when we celebrate the way Adams, Jefferson, and Washington managed to proclaim U.S. independence in 1776 without blowing up a single mailbox — some thing that hasn’t occurred on any Fourth of July in America since. I asked readers for their favorite memories of this impor tant holiday, and here is a small sampling of their stories.
• Carole Goldberg, Hartford, Conn.: When I was a kid in the early 1950s, we had fireworks at the Connecticut beach where we rented a cottage. Our dads and uncles bought the fireworks and set them off. It was all legal and lots of fun. My cousin, who was in his 30s, thought it would be cool to set one off inside an upside-down tin sand pail. Well, it blew the bottom of the pail out, which came spinning back down, all sharp edges, and could have sliced someone’s head open. We laughed, but the moms in the group put a quick end to amateur fireworks night.
• Patricia Skinner Garvey, Burlington: Four years ago, I was embroiled in a passionate relationship with a local musician. I asked him to meet me at a restaurant on the Burlington waterfront for the fireworks. After visiting my daughter who was a waitress there, the fireworks began and everyone left to see and hear the enormous blasts and booms. We went outside, too, but with the first bang we cupped our hands over our ears. Then we went back inside, where we enjoyed the privacy of the emptied romantic restaurant and created our own fireworks. It turned out that we were both afraid of real Fourth of July pyrotechnics!
• Chris Schwab, Raleigh, N.C.: About 15 years ago, I chose a quit-smoking day for myself: Independence Day. I chose it because I wanted to declare my independence from nicotine. At quarter to midnight, I threw my cigarettes away. It was tough, but I knew there wouldn’t be another Independence Day for a year, and this was my year to quit. So I did it, and I’m still independent from nicotine.
• Emma Edwards Cabaness, Thornton, Colo.: My family summered in the north woods of Wisconsin when I was growing up in the 1970s and early 1980s. We were in a tiny town near Lac du Flambeau, an Indian reservation. One year we attended the Fourth of July parade on the reservation. I was standing next to a Native American woman with some young children and one of her kids pointed at the procession and said, “Look, Mom! They’re Indians!” Her mother replied, “Course, they are. What do you think you are?”
• Eileen Fahey Brunetto, Cornwall: I didn’t realize how crazy July Fourth is here in Vermont until I spent my first Fourth in Bristol. I was sitting in my living room when my cat and I heard beating drums. Curious, I ran out to join in. Within seconds I was hit in the head with a piece of candy thrown from a float. I think it set me right.
• Judith Mathison, Burlington: I was 23 and living in Dublin, Ireland. I was missing my family and Fourth of July barbecues and fireworks. My Irish friends set out to cheer me up. There was a barbecue that was more like huge bonfire, singeing not only the sausages and baked potatoes, but my eyebrows as well. They also played Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” repeatedly, taking turns running back into the house to rewind the tape!
Finally, one more from the Emerald Isle:
• MaryBeth Pinard-Brace, Shelburne: I was in Ireland and had just turned 16 on that July 4. My mother and I were driving in the Irish countryside and stopped to see some spectacular gardens, when a man stopped my mother and offered to buy me. Yes, buy me. … at any price she wanted. My mother declined, but I’m sure there were times during my teenage years when she thought that she should have taken him up on his offer.
Have a safe and Happy Fourth. Be kind to your neighbors, tin pails and mailboxes, and don’t sell your children.
(This column originally ran in the Burlington Free Press on Sunday, July 4, 2010.)