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I have fragmented memories of childhood Fourth of July events in Chicago. There were parades, but as a small boy in shorts having his hand held in a human vise had a limited view. There were dresses and pants (shorts were reserved for back yards and beaches) covering legs and rears. Some kids liked being hoisted up and held above the mad crowd. Not me. Despite the blocked view I preferred ground level where if the vise slackened for a moment I might slip my shackle and flee. I was known for this. When there was a family gathering others would beg my parents “Don’t bring Harry. Get a sitter. Keep him home, please!” It wasn’t personal dislike prompting demands for a Harry ban. The relatives simply had enough with having ended other gatherings with everyone looking for where I’d gone off to. Knowing no fear I’d simply take off. I knew there was no escape. They’d find me. But an attempt at freedom had to be made.
I recall being taken to parks at night to watch fireworks in the distance, but that is all I recall because I’d fall asleep and saw nothing. More memorable than fireworks I missed was the smell of Walt Whitman’s “mystical, moist night air” and the secure feeling of being enfolded in a warm blanket of starry night. Being slid onto the back seat (no car seats for kids those days) was a narcotic of soft quiet rumbling along progressively less busy city streets until we were home. Missing the fireworks (which I did until age ten) was a small loss compared to the great jot of being tumbled out of clothes and dumped into bed in my skin. The pure essence of a Fourth was night air under the stars and a night in bed spent free, unencumbered. I think when we recognize a pure pleasure it will always be a thing simple and innocent as childhood sleep.
I doubt it was a “Fourth” event when mother took me to see a parade for Eisenhower. I was old enough to grasp his importance and old enough to have got over the necessity to run into any crowd if not watched like a hawk. But the day had to be summery as any Fourth because we stood in sweaty misery along an important avenue waiting for the motorcade to pass by. Alert because mother insisted I see this hero I was no less bored. Boys of ten would craft motorcades with cannons shooting candy at the crowd. I was waiting in great hope for something like that to happen when the crowd’s excitement picked up and I was jostled nose high into a wall of backs. If I saw anything of “Ike” it was a flicker of bald head from behind after his car passed. I could see that any weekend visiting Uncle Bill who had a vast bulging belly as well.
You’ll be able to get the year figured out when I say the Eisenhower parade was also a political event. In the wake of Democrats Roosevelt and Truman Ike was running for President as the Republican candidate. At the time these party labels meant as little to me as did the term limit furor over FDR and the socialist agenda loudly heralded as our doom. If I had a vote it would have been for candy cannons, less school, and longer summers for running barefoot under the sprinklers. I was in for a shock when on the back of one of the Eisenhower parade cars was a stuffed scarecrow effigy bearing a placard TRUMAN hung by its neck. I didn’t have a particular position on capital punishment, and was frankly stunned to see political zeal show such blatant disrespect. No doubt Truman’s first name influenced my reaction. The hanging of any Harry was a bad sign to me. And even though Harry S (did you know there is no period after Harry’s S) was not an impressive leader we shared a name. Generally speaking, boys named Harry in that era had but one shining model against a thousand Hapless Harry examples. Truman getting the boot kicked out my only prop. It may be the Potter boy has redeemed the Harrys of this world to their former princely standing, but when Ike came in being a Harry definitely went out.
My first Fourth on the Iron Range was memorable for more than having a house crammed full of Chicago relatives come to see our lives in what they concluded was a US version of Siberia. If my recollection is at all accurate the Fourth in 57 was nippy. On a day gray, cloudy, and windy the Hoyt Lakes town parade went forward with an occasional flurry in the air and beauty queens wrapped shivering in beach towels. I witnessed a similar wintry Fourth in Grand Marais in 72 when those on the summer fun float had to be treated for hypothermia. Well, it wasn’t quite that bad, but when the crowd is light and half are wearing parkas you know it’s a bit chilly. Only the very elderly organizer of the parade seemed un phased. She remained until years later the reaper had enough and took her out like a swatter eliminating a fly. Many cats were left in mourning. Actually, Grand Marais does a very credible firework show on the Fourth, but dress warm and bring lots of bug dope. Yes, you do need both, no fooling.
In my guiding years I spent numbers of Fourths in Canoe Country. On one, a family group spent their first night during which a father son team slept on mother earth in a shared Timberline tent. Among many memorable incidents it’s impossible for me to forget this because in the morning the boy crawled from his tent to sadly moan “I can’t feel my hips!” Of course he couldn’t. Built on the plan of a straw he didn’t have hips.
On this Fourth no preaching. I only wish you the small joys of our great freedom.