Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fourth of July When I Was A Kid

I'm posting a memory piece for today that I also posted last year on July 4th. Some of you will have read it then and for others, it will be new. It's about the way we celebrated this holiday back in the 1940's. It was a simpler way of life, a slower pace, but it had a lot going for it. Maybe it will trigger memories of your own childhood celebrations. If it does, write about it for your family memory book. 

Independence Day In Chicago--What We Did and What We Learned
By Nancy Julien Kopp

Come back with me to the1940’s era in Chicago. During the first few days of July, my younger brothers and I walked to the neighborhood Woolworth’s store to buy a very important item for our Fourth of July celebration. We had to make our purchase no later than July 3rd, for all businesses closed on Independence Day.

We walked on the creaky wooden floor, smelling the penny candy lined up in glass cases near the front door. Straight to the back of the long aisle, we found rolls and rolls of colored crepe paper--red, white, and blue, of course.  We bought several rolls with money we’d saved. Once home, we stashed our purchase for the next day.
The first thing after breakfast on the Fourth of July, we clambered down the three flights of stairs from our top floor apartment to the basement where our bikes were kept..  Bump, bump, bump—up the steps from basement to courtyard we went with our two wheeled bikes. Down went the kickstands, and out came the rolls of crepe paper to decorate. We wove the colored streamers in and out of the wheel spokes, and fastened more on the handle-bars, then stepped back to see which looked best. Decorating our bikes for America’s holiday left an indelible impression of patriotism in us.
Other kids in our building worked on bikes, too. We rode all over the neighborhood, up and down alleys and sidewalks showing off our fancy bikes, not caring how high the temperature might be.

We spent the rest of the day like any other hot, sultry summer day. We ate popsicles to cool off, walked to the park where families sat on the lawn with picnic lunches and waited for the sun to go down. Dad had gone out earlier to one of the only businesses open—the fireworks stand. Money was usually scarce in our family, but Dad always found some extra to buy firecrackers and sparklers for us. No doubt, he enjoyed them as much as we did.
Darkness finally descended over our city, and once again, we hurried down the three flights of stairs. Not just kids this time, but our whole family. We gathered in the alley beyond the apartment courtyard along with several other families. Only Dad lit our firecrackers, although I’m sure my brothers wanted to try it. One I loved was a pinwheel which Dad stuck into a telephone pole. When he lit the fuse, the entire thing whirled round and round, throwing sparks in every direction. Little firecrackers on the ground did nothing but make popping noises, but the Roman candles gave us the real show. Big noise and showers of colorful sparks which delighted us. And finally, Dad lit sparklers we held. I loved whirling them round and round, watching the designs the sparks made. All too soon, they burned down to the end and we rushed to get another until the boxes were emptied.
We knew why we decorated our bikes, why people went on picnics and why we had fireworks on the Fourth of July. Our parents talked to us every year about what it meant to have Independence and how a war several years before was fought and won to ensure that we lived with freedoms like few other nations. We grew up knowing there was a serious side to the holiday. Even so, it was a special day we looked forward to every summer.


  1. I'm remembering back to the 50's, in the same neighborhool. I know that courtyard, and even the phone pole. Only one block away we were decorating our bikes, adding the playing card with a clothespin for noise. We could always depend on Dad to get the card just right. Up and down the sidewalks we would go. I remember parades in town. We would all get in the car and drive to the parade route where we would help line the streets for this wonderful sight. We would go to the firewords at the high school for a wonderful display, which in our opinion, ended too soon. Back home, Dad would get out the sparklers, light them, and hand them to each of us, just as your Dad did. He would put a red flare in the truck of the tree and then light it. What a glorious site. We also danced with our sparklers, turning circles with them and making circle eights. We also had caps that we would strike for noise, and don't forget those snakes we would light. We could only do the snakes on or in the street gutter, as they left blake stains on the cement. Thank you for reminding me of such special times. It's today, as all holidays, that I truly miss my family, but hold in my heart all the special times we shared. Thanks be to God for this country as we celebrate its birth, and for our families and all the special memories. I am so thankful that you are part of those special times together.
    Happy 4th and God Bless! An old neighbor and friend. dws

  2. I grew up in the 50's and 60's in the Bronx, a borough of New York City. All fireworks, including sparklers, were illegal, but we children managed to get them anyway. I don't remember decorating bicycles, but I do remember the Good Humor man - besides the trucks, there were Good Humor men on bicycles pushing a small cart full of frozen goodies. My favorite was the red, white and blue shortcake bars. covered with red, white and blue sprinkles. I think those cost a quarter, which in those days was expensive. But so worth it!

  3. Very enjoyable reading, Nancy. We limited our fireworks to pinwheels, lady fingers (tiny firecrackers), and snakes. Dad would get some roman candles and some fountains for night display. He shot them off over a plowed field. We would have sparklers to play with after dark also.