Image from LIFE Magaziine, Cedar Falls Iowa, 1952: Senator Estes Kefauver, Democrat from Tennessee, poses against a backdrop of fireworks.
When I was young, the small town that I grew up in had an all-American fourth of July celebration. Legion Park was located at the end of a canal, an old park where the generations gathered. The Stockton Symphony would set up and play through the sweltering weather, and thousands of people would bring picnics and eat under the cool shade of the giant elms, acacias and oaks.
The music was classical and popular--think of the Boston Pops in a farm town. Sousa marches, Aaron Copeland, showtunes, the occassional opera aria. It was always 100 degrees, or maybe more. The Legionaires were there -- men who'd fought in wars from Spain to WWII and Korea. I remember them wearing their hats at an angle, every medal and ribbon pinned to a red vest or suit jacket. People wore tank tops, shorts, summer dresses and though it was 'a scorcher,' everyone expected it and didn't make much ado. Children zipped around on bikes, teens kissed on blankets. Families showed up with ice chests, the frisbees, footballs. Dogs barked, kids chased each other, everyone took a turn at the slide and inevitably, a sno-cone vendor would show up and be the biggest hit of the day. And through it all came the sounds of the violins, violas, cellos, and the woodwinds, as if bringing it all together with some sort of magical chord until that moment when the sky became dark and the fireworks began. And when the night fell, and the giant rockets of dazzling lights sped into the air like chariots waiting to burst, the symphony always started off with Tchaikovsky.
Now, I look back at those days and miss the treat of hearing a symphony play on the Fourth of July, the giant canopy of old trees providing shade, and the river that reflected the fireworks. At the high school below my house is a fenced in arena with live, second-rate bands, DJ's, realtors running amok with small plastic flags, hawkers of pre-packaged popcorn, and people who wouldn't know Tchaikovsky from Copeland. Except at my house, where the buntings are being hung right now, the flag is hung straight, and the outdoor speakers will be blaring symphonic music the minute the first firework hits the air.
Happy Fourth of July everyone!