Happy 4th of July-Have a Blast! (repost)

Forgive my recent posting hiatus and enjoy this repost of a signature piece. ; )

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The 4th of July is a favorite holiday of mine, perhaps because it was always such delicious fun when I was a kid.   We’d spend the afternoon swimming at the Jewish Community Center with all of the other Irish Catholics (See the previous post A Catholic Childhood at the Jewish Community Center) and then bound for home to ride bikes and play until the giant picnic dinner was served.

Grilled hamburgers and hot dogs were standard fare at these gatherings with watermelon the sweet treat for dessert.  My mom whipped up her famous potato salad, which my friends have always begged her to make and which I didn’t have the good sense to cultivate an appetite for until I was an adult.  Brownies topped with powdered sugar, cole slaw, deviled eggs, popsicles, and all the soda pop you could drink rounded out the special day’s unusually kid-friendly menu.

Fireworks were illegal in the city where I grew up, but that didn’t stop my dad and his best friend from putting on a small but glorious display for their young families at the moment dusk turned to dark.  We would line up our chairs along the railing of the marble patio my father had built and well away from the action at the back end of the yard.

My dad was an explosives expert by trade, so, of course, he delighted in entertaining us with his own little show of Roman candles.   We wrote our names in the night air with  sparklers under the close supervision of the dads.  We lit tiny black squares that ballooned into “snakes”  on the driveway where they’d leave unsightly smudges for months once their remnant ashes blew away.  No one got burned or poked their eyes out.

When we moved into our house in Edgevale, I was 4 years of age; my parents stayed in this home for 30 years, long enough to see their four children grow up and move into lives of their own.  As they aged, they enjoyed another round of life in this hood with the set of neighbors who moved in after my siblings and I had left.

The revels of this group included an annual day-long 4th of July block party which actually was set in motion by the original set of long-time neighbors when I was in junior high.  After I married, my husband and I would attend as would many other families who had once lived on the block.  This block had a healthy alumni contingent who often found their way back for the Halloween and Christmas parties as well as the all-day 4th of July celebration.

We have a photo of my son as a one-month-old tucked in the lap of an older child in the annual group shot of the kids and another snapshot from when he was 3 or 4, sporting blue twill Osh Kosh overall shorts and a red, white, and blue striped T-shirt as he took a break from running with the pack of older kids long enough to munch a hot dog.

Other photos show tables packed with dishes of food, grills in the street billowing smoke, adults and kids laughingly engaged in silly contests, kids riding decorated bikes and running through sprinklers, and smiling adults with a plate in one hand and a malt beverage in the other. A firetruck would invariably swing by early on before its riders were pressed into service on their busiest night of they year.

The summer after my daughter was born, we took her over to acquaint her with the homeland, but decided that our  son was a bit too intrigued by the bottle rocket war the adult males waged in one yard.  Good fences may make good neighbors, but bad handling of explosive devices does not.

My husband’s recollection of the end of that era of our 4th of July celebrations?  “Duck and cover.”   Funny how your perspective on revelry shifts just a bit when you become a parent.  The next year we decided to stick closer to our home and cultivate some traditions of our own.

So what have these traditions been?  Well, of course, they evolved over the years as the children grew, but one constant for us is the tiny parade sponsored by our small city.  With the holiday falling on a Sunday and the economy still precarious, some festivities have been moved or altered or canceled.

The parade lives on, though it was held yesterday instead of today to avoid conflicting with church services.  We met up with some good friends and enjoyed the coolish breeze and sunshine as we were pelted with candy and political pamphlets in this an election year.

Here’s an excerpt from a previous post,  part of the Pool Chronicles series (The Pool Chronicles: Past as Prologue-Culture), which recounts the parade in detail and how we have typically celebrated the Fourth here at Flat Rock Creek:

Citizens turn out in droves for the small but satisfying Fourth of July parade every year and the attendant events throughout that week: an early morning run, a midnight bike race, a street dance, and, until it was eliminated last year due to economic woes, a mammoth fireworks display in the huge county park it shares with another mid-sized city.

The parade is held in Old Town, right next to the railroad tracks which bustle 24/7 with freight trains transporting coal and sundry other cargo. Patience is a virtue cultivated early in one’s residency here as motorists’ routes are regularly interrupted by the passing of trains whose horns punctuate the day, synchronizing the city’s businesses and piercing the still of night like a coyote howl.

We’ve watched the parade from the back of our minivan to keep from getting soaked by a thunder storm and watched it from lawn chairs we drug across the railroad tracks in the oppressive humidity that defines mid-summer here. A local group of Shriners, a mainstay of the parade, charms the children by racing tiny go-carts in circle 8s and tooting horns on their miniature Model Ts. Some of them prance good naturedly in goofy costumes to entertain the crowd accompanied by tunes produced by their kazoo-playing comrades.

Other music is provided by a horn band comprised of random area high school students trumpeting their only tune,  “Louie, Louie,” throughout the parade route.

The city’s swim team is heralded like local heroes. Cub Scouts packs and Girl Scout troops pedal their meticulously decorated bikes as their leaders walk along and toss candy to kids. City officials wave to the crowd from the back of slow-moving convertibles.

Young girls from dance academies turn flips down the asphalt and the costumed players from a local Renaissance Festival engage spectators with their theatrical antics and hardy shouts of “Huzzah!” Local businesses advertise services through festive floats. Even a pristine garbage truck is part of the route, a nod to a local waste management company.

The only unpleasantness is the periodic invasion every couple of years of politicians seeking to solicit votes and shore up name recognition. But even that annoyance is so quintessentially American that it’s hard to be offended. Residents come from all over the city to watch and everyone gets a good seat curbside. After the parade ends, people head to their respective neighborhood pools to spend the day swimming and splashing and sunning.

We’ve been watching the city’s Fourth of July fireworks show since it was held on the easement along the railroad tracks in the 1980s. In the first years we lived in our house, we could actually view it from our driveway. But once it shifted to the large county park and shared costs with a neighboring city, my husband initiated a new family tradition.

We’d venture out in a canoe to the middle of the lake in the big county park at dusk and watch the brilliant display of fireworks ignite the sky, casting its massive reflection on the black still canvas of water. The lake effect, in this case, was the illusion that the trailing embers falling from the spray of fireworks were showering the water as each resonant boom echoed off the bluff on the other side of the lake. Two shows for the price of one and both free.

In recent years, I noticed an uptick of families celebrating with picnics at the shelters surrounding the lake. Typically, we’ve gotten together with family friends for grilled hamburgers and hotdogs at someone’s home to celebrate after relaxing at the pool all afternoon. It has never occurred to me to go to a park on that day except to see fireworks. But it has occurred to a fair number of recent immigrants to the United States.

So I’ve been privy to a most remarkable scene: the gathering of immigrants and native-born Americans—who would know which was which on the edge of the lake as they cluster around the dock and boat easement to get a good view of the night sky?

Right here, smack in the middle of the heartland, this: people of all ages and origins, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, Slavic, African American, European, and those of other ethnic backgrounds, all gathered in one place to celebrate the birth of these United States, a wondrous cacophony conjured by the sounds of different languages and dialects rising into the evening air as people descend the hill to reach the dock at dusk to watch fireworks.

Here’s hoping you find your way to a delightful and safe Fourth of July this year!

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Happy 4th of July-Have a Blast!

The 4th of July is a favorite holiday of mine, perhaps because it was always such delicious fun when I was a kid.   We’d spend the afternoon swimming at the Jewish Community Center with all of the other Irish Catholics (See the previous post A Catholic Childhood at the Jewish Community Center) and then bound for home to ride bikes and play until the giant picnic dinner was served.

Grilled hamburgers and hot dogs were standard fare at these gatherings with watermelon the sweet treat for dessert.  My mom whipped up her famous potato salad, which my friends have always begged her to make and which I didn’t have the good sense to cultivate an appetite for until I was an adult.  Brownies topped with powdered sugar, cole slaw, deviled eggs, popsicles, and all the soda pop you could drink rounded out the special day’s unusually kid-friendly menu.

Fireworks were illegal in the city where I grew up, but that didn’t stop my dad and his best friend from putting on a small but glorious display for their young families at the moment dusk turned to dark.  We would line up our chairs along the railing of the marble patio my father had built and well away from the action at the back end of the yard.

My dad was an explosives expert by trade, so, of course, he delighted in entertaining us with his own little show of Roman candles.   We wrote our names in the night air with  sparklers under the close supervision of the dads.  We lit tiny black squares that ballooned into “snakes”  on the driveway where they’d leave unsightly smudges for months once their remnant ashes blew away.  No one got burned or poked their eyes out.

When we moved into our house in Edgevale, I was 4 years of age; my parents stayed in this home for 30 years, long enough to see their four children grow up and move into lives of their own.  As they aged, they enjoyed another round of life in this hood with the set of neighbors who moved in after my siblings and I had left.

The revels of this group included an annual day-long 4th of July block party which actually was set in motion by the original set of long-time neighbors when I was in junior high.  After I married, my husband and I would attend as would many other families who had once lived on the block.  This block had a healthy alumni contingent who often found their way back for the Halloween and Christmas parties as well as the all-day 4th of July celebration.

We have a photo of my son as a one-month-old tucked in the lap of an older child in the annual group shot of the kids and another snapshot from when he was 3 or 4, sporting blue twill Osh Kosh overall shorts and a red, white, and blue striped T-shirt as he took a break from running with the pack of older kids long enough to munch a hot dog.

Other photos show tables packed with dishes of food, grills in the street billowing smoke, adults and kids laughingly engaged in silly contests, kids riding decorated bikes and running through sprinklers, and smiling adults with a plate in one hand and a malt beverage in the other. A firetruck would invariably swing by early on before its riders were pressed into service on their busiest night of they year.

The summer after my daughter was born, we took her over to acquaint her with the homeland, but decided that our  son was a bit too intrigued by the bottle rocket war the adult males waged in one yard.  Good fences may make good neighbors, but bad handling of explosive devices does not.

My husband’s recollection of the end of that era of our 4th of July celebrations?  “Duck and cover.”   Funny how your perspective on revelry shifts just a bit when you become a parent.  The next year we decided to stick closer to our home and cultivate some traditions of our own.

So what have these traditions been?  Well, of course, they evolved over the years as the children grew, but one constant for us is the tiny parade sponsored by our small city.  With the holiday falling on a Sunday and the economy still precarious, some festivities have been moved or altered or canceled.

The parade lives on, though it was held yesterday instead of today to avoid conflicting with church services.  We met up with some good friends and enjoyed the coolish breeze and sunshine as we were pelted with candy and political pamphlets in this an election year.

Here’s an excerpt from a previous post,  part of the Pool Chronicles series (The Pool Chronicles: Past as Prologue-Culture), which recounts the parade in detail and how we have typically celebrated the Fourth here at Flat Rock Creek:

Citizens turn out in droves for the small but satisfying Fourth of July parade every year and the attendant events throughout that week: an early morning run, a midnight bike race, a street dance, and, until it was eliminated last year due to economic woes, a mammoth fireworks display in the huge county park it shares with another mid-sized city.

The parade is held in Old Town, right next to the railroad tracks which bustle 24/7 with freight trains transporting coal and sundry other cargo. Patience is a virtue cultivated early in one’s residency here as motorists’ routes are regularly interrupted by the passing of trains whose horns punctuate the day, synchronizing the city’s businesses and piercing the still of night like a coyote howl.

We’ve watched the parade from the back of our minivan to keep from getting soaked by a thunder storm and watched it from lawn chairs we drug across the railroad tracks in the oppressive humidity that defines mid-summer here. A local group of Shriners, a mainstay of the parade, charms the children by racing tiny go-carts in circle 8s and tooting horns on their miniature Model Ts. Some of them prance good naturedly in goofy costumes to entertain the crowd accompanied by tunes produced by their kazoo-playing comrades.

Other music is provided by a horn band comprised of random area high school students trumpeting their only tune,  “Louie, Louie,” throughout the parade route.

The city’s swim team is heralded like local heroes. Cub Scouts packs and Girl Scout troops pedal their meticulously decorated bikes as their leaders walk along and toss candy to kids. City officials wave to the crowd from the back of slow-moving convertibles.

Young girls from dance academies turn flips down the asphalt and the costumed players from a local Renaissance Festival engage spectators with their theatrical antics and hardy shouts of “Huzzah!” Local businesses advertise services through festive floats. Even a pristine garbage truck is part of the route, a nod to a local waste management company.

The only unpleasantness is the periodic invasion every couple of years of politicians seeking to solicit votes and shore up name recognition. But even that annoyance is so quintessentially American that it’s hard to be offended. Residents come from all over the city to watch and everyone gets a good seat curbside. After the parade ends, people head to their respective neighborhood pools to spend the day swimming and splashing and sunning.

We’ve been watching the city’s Fourth of July fireworks show since it was held on the easement along the railroad tracks in the 1980s. In the first years we lived in our house, we could actually view it from our driveway. But once it shifted to the large county park and shared costs with a neighboring city, my husband initiated a new family tradition.

We’d venture out to the middle of the lake in the big county park at dusk and watch from a canoe the brilliant display of fireworks ignite the sky and cast its massive reflection on the black still canvas of water. The lake effect, in this case, was the illusion that the trailing embers falling from the spray of fireworks were showering the water as each resonant boom echoed off the bluff on the other side of the lake. Two shows for the price of one and both free.

In recent years, I noticed an uptick of families celebrating with picnics at the shelters surrounding the lake. Typically, we’ve gotten together with family friends for grilled hamburgers and hotdogs at someone’s home to celebrate after relaxing at the pool all afternoon. It has never occurred to me to go to a park on that day except to see fireworks. But it has occurred to a fair number of recent immigrants to the United States.

So I’ve been privy to a most remarkable scene: the gathering of immigrants and native-born Americans—who would know which was which on the edge of the lake as they cluster around the dock and boat easement to get a good view of the night sky?

Right here, smack in the middle of the heartland, this: people of all ages and origins, Asian, Indian, Hispanic, Slavic, African American, European, and those of other ethnic backgrounds, all gathered in one place to celebrate the birth of these United States, a wondrous cacophony conjured by the sounds of different languages and dialects rising into the evening air as people descend the hill to reach the dock at dusk to watch fireworks.

Here’s hoping you find your way to a delightful and safe Fourth of July this year!

The Pool Chronicles: Transcendence of Public Spaces

In recent conversations I’ve had with friends about the uncertain future of Flat Rock Creek Pool, each of them has mentioned, quite unsolicited, their own fond memories of a favorite pool from their childhood.  These memories are apparently intense and powerful, at least I would guess so by the vehemence exhibited in my friends’ recounting of how much these pools have meant to them.  And here I thought I’d cornered the market on having spent my youth in an extraordinary pool setting.

The pool at the Jewish Community Center was my second home each summer.  My good friend from the neighborhood, Jenny, (Before Her Time) disappeared to her father’s Arizona movie set every summer, so I was left to fend for myself against the wicked Midwestern humidity.  This I did by attending a day camp perfectly titled “Funtime” at the JCC when I was a child and by hanging out with my friends all day every day at the enormous outdoor pool there once I was in junior high.

In addition to all of the terrific play time, swim lessons, lifeguard gawking, Marco Polo marathons, and hours of unadulterated fun the JCC pool afforded me, my experiences there also shaped my world view.  The Jewish Community Center pool was my pool even though I wasn’t Jewish.  And I certainly wasn’t the only one there who wasn’t. 

So I learned early in my otherwise sheltered Catholic life in Catholic schools that there are lots of other people in the world who are different than me, that other people’s ideas and ways of looking at the world are as important to them as mine are to me, that it’s important to respect other people’s values and traditions even if they are completely different than mine and I don’t fully understand them.

That’s a lot to get out of a swimming pool. 

Honestly, I don’t think I can better capture what a pool can mean to people than I did in my earlier post, A Catholic Childhood at the Jewish Community Center, which offers a fuller sense of that place as a transformative intersection of lives. 

I listened then with interest at the last city council meeting when one council member with a background in architecture shared his perspective on pools in general.  Of course, given my own academic bent, I find the language and rhetorical moves of different fields endlessly fascinating.  In this case, he was explaining how a pool can be considered an expensive hole in the ground since all of its architectural significance is buried underground.  What is visible above ground is minimal: the mechanical room where the exposed pipes and valves permit monitoring and adjustment. 

He also pointed up the changing recreation patterns of Americans in general.  There’s much more bike riding and demand for bike trails than in decades past just as there may be less interest in tennis than there was 30 years ago.  As a tennis lover, it pains me to think that.  Fortunately, I do see very consistent use of the two courts near Flat Rock Creek Pool by a variety of folks of all ages, and this gives me hope that interest in the sport, though less, is still sufficient to warrant keeping the existing courts.  But these shifts speak to the question of what kinds of recreation do people want now?

Most people seem to believe there is something fundamental about a neighborhood pool.  Where an architect sees the pool for its structural essence, pool users see something more: not just a hole in the ground but a transcendent space, one through which you become weightless and ageless and through which time itself seems to stand still. 

Its true beauty is defined not by its subterranean depth but by the web of interactions it spins at the surface of the water.  A place where adults bounce on their tiptoes just as they did when they were children and relax when they let water lap against their bodies as they hang from the side and visit with friends.  A place where kids bob up and down in futile efforts to outrun each other in games of tag, the guileless water a resistant force to every shape and size, a true game equalizer. 

A place where buoyant babes in sun bonnets are cradled in mothers’ arms and seniors swim laps amid wild throws of nerf balls.  A place that gives packs of middle schoolers ample room to preen and play under the watchful eyes of moms toting giant swim bags packed with surreptitious snacks and colorful beach towels.  A place for sun worshippers to ply themselves with sunscreen and suck in Vitamin D through every pore, oblivious to the kids with goggles diving for coins.

And it’s not just for swimming: people visit, read books, take naps, people-watch, eat snacks and lunch, play cards and games, meet other people.  What people get out of the pool experience is entirely up to them.  And it’s hard to be anywhere else when you are there.

I like to call it pool therapy.  When my kids were very young, there were few moments in my busy life when I wasn’t thinking about something else, like all of the things I needed to get done.  My husband and I would take the kids to the pool on weeknights for an hour of swimming and to meet up with other young families. 

It was the most liberating time of my day.  Forgetting the to-do lists and stresses of work and just immersing in the water and the moment, enjoying the pure joy of my son as he pretended to be an alligator slithering across the sloped pool bottom in the shallow end, or my daughter as she jumped off the edge into my husband’s arms, and both of my kids laughing as water from the giant mushroom-shaped fountain cascaded from its cap and spilled over their heads.

We still go to Flat Rock Creek Pool, though our play now is naturally different from those earlier days.  But we still seek what we found then: the water lifting us out of our everyday lives, the promise of transcendence offered us by this public space.

Maybe it is just a luxury or maybe it means something more to a community than its price tag can convey.  This is your chance to write the theme you couldn’t have written in elementary school: what does a pool mean to a neighborhood, to a community?  What has a pool meant to you?