Random Thoughts

The Fourth

... a summer holiday for kids

by Ann Robbins Talbot

Fourth of July, Melrose-style, was invented for kids. Summer was in full swing by then. The neighborhood gang played outdoors from morning 'til night.  

The main attraction was Monopoly, a relatively new game. We would begin in the morning, break for lunch, tucking the money and real estate cards underneath the edges of the board, resuming play as soon as possible. No adults would interrupt our game with trips to the pool because there was no pool nearby.  

Now and again we would wander up into the Fells woods to play on Kissing Bridges, a set of three waterfalls ending near Howard Johnson’s famous orange roof. We would walk to the highest bridge, choose a twig to put into the pond and watch until the waterfall drew it in under the bridge. Then we would run like mad down to the next bridge to wait for our twigs to appear. And so on. This adventure could last all afternoon. It was relatively cool in the woods.

Occasionally we would walk down to Lincoln playground where a softball game was usually in progress. We would be part of the spectators, not the players. Several games of Mancala were being played on a picnic table. We could get in by calling “play the winner” or “play the loser” and waiting for the current game to end. But the playground was hot and dusty and we soon trekked back to the neighborhood.

When the Fourth of July arrived, we were ready for celebration. The Melrose Theater offered free movies in the morning. We lined up with all the other kids in town awaiting our turn to enter the darkened auditorium. A variety of short subjects appeared on the screen featuring such groups as the Three Stooges which I did not enjoy and Our Gang which I did. There would also be a short Western with a quick beginning, middle and ending. The entire performance lasted less than an hour. Then we were given a flag and the theater was cleared for the next group waiting on the sidewalk for admittance.  

On the way home we stopped at Hinchey’s which had specials for the Fourth. For a few pennies we could purchase harmless little “fireworks”. When we got home, our parents gave us wooden matches to light these pill shapes on fire in the gutters next to the curbstone. As they were consumed, they made a hissing noise and a gray snake appeared, made of ashes which immediately blew away. Part of the fun was heating the black tar on the side of the road so it became shiny and soft.

At dinnertime, our traditional feast was spread on the table. Creamed salmon and fresh peas were the main attractions. And the first watermelon of the season was cut, eaten on the porch so we could spit the seeds over the railing.

For the real Fourth of July fireworks, we all piled into the family car to journey to Wakefield to see the display go off at Lake Quannapowitt. We joined family groups from Stoneham and Reading to stand shoulder to shoulder ooo-ing and ahh-ing at each gorgeous explosion. The end was announced by the fireworks being shot one after another at a quick pace, filling the air with light and noise. It was worth waiting all year for that moment. Then we all piled back into the car and sat in traffic waiting to get back to Melrose. My father’s most unfavorite activity was sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Every year he vowed we would not do this again. But, of course, every year we did.

In these days of Disney World, perhaps fireworks are not as amazing. But it is very satisfying to me to watch the Boston Pops Concert and the wonderful fireworks display coordinated with fine music on the Fourth of July. I am in the comfort of my own chair listening to the "1812 Overture" and the crowd singing the old songs that I learned at Lincoln School. I await the unfurling of the flag at the end of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" and take a moment to appreciate that we live in the best place on Earth.  

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