Monday, July 04, 2005

The Fourth, then and now

Scooter, my wife and assistant, grew up thinking that the fireworks on the Fourth of July were in celebration of her daddy's birthday. That's what he told her and that's what she believed.

It wasn't until the fourth grade that her teacher told her different.

Scooter argued the point. She argued until she got sent to the principal, who called her daddy to come get her.

He did, with a smirk on his face. The smirk told Scooter that he knew what she knew -- that she was right and the teacher was wrong.

"Well," said her dad, "the teacher is partially right and you're partially right."

I've told this story before, but new readers may not have seen it, so there you have it.

In spite of the fourth grade incident, the Fourth of July remained a hallowed holiday in Scooter's household.

She and her five siblings, along with whatever kids from their Tulare, Calif., neighborhood they could round up, would sing patriotic songs in the front yard, especially "You're A Grand Old Flag," while her dad watched.

The neighbor kids wouldn't always know all the words to the songs, so Scooter and her brothers and sister would carry the ball on the singing part. But at the end, they'd all line up, drape their arms around the shoulders of the kid on each side, and do a kick line.

Then, Scooter's dad, known affectionately (and sometimes not so affectionately) as "Wild Bill," would invite all the neighbor kids to stay for hot dogs on the grill. They wouldn't have buns. Those were too expensive to splurge on, so they'd gather up little splinters of wood or little twigs and eat the weenies off the stick. They tasted better that way anyhow, if you were a kid.

To this day, Scooter's still a sucker for "You're a Grand Old Flag" and the movie "Yankee Doodle Dandy," a fine film about song-dance-man George M. Cohan that stars Jimmy Cagney. She's watching it right now, in fact, on Turner Classic Movies.

But patriotism wasn't just for July 4th in Scooter's world.

If it was Flag Day, or Washington's birthday, or Lincoln's birthday, or Memorial Day, Wild Bill would take the kids down to the Post Office (or wherever else there was an American flag on a pole) early the morning, before the Stars and Stripes were raised. He'd have the kids form a circle around the flagpole, stand at attention, salute as the flag was raised, then tell them "at ease" once the banner was raised.

"What'd the people do when ya'll showed up to do all that?" I asked.

"Oh, they'd take pictures. They thought it was cute," she said.

So that's why my wife and assistant is so patriotic.

Earlier today, we went to the Black Cat fireworks warehouse, located north of Angleton, at the Rosharon exit off Highway 288. I guess this kind of place is replacing the old rickety wooden fireworks stands you used to see everywhere. The place looks to be nearly half-a-football-field in length.

It's owned by Sam Broadway, the purported fireworks king of Houston, who is said to have 20 of these big metal warehouses in the Greater H-Town area. The places are open only 22 days a year, now and leading up to the New Year. He gets a nonprofit group to provide the labor and they get a cut of the revenues. Working at the Black Cat warehouse down here this July were members and parents of the Clear Brook High School Band.

We bought $3.30 worth of sparklers. Yep, we're gonna do it up Big Time tonight.

Here in the capital of Brazosport (Lake Jackson), people have already positioned their pickups in key spots for tonight's fireworks display. They've got the beds of their pickups pointed toward T.J. Dunbar Jr. Memorial Park, where the fireworks will be ignited. The police already have strung yellow crime scene tape along a stretch of Farm-to-Market 2004 to keep people from parking too close to the pyrotechnics. Safety first is the motto of everyone here in the Petrochemical Underarm of Texas.

Later in the day, around 6 or 7, the hayseeds from Squirrel Holler, Jones Creek and other little wide spots in the road will start straggling into town to set up their lawn chairs and soda pop coolers in front of Hobby Lobby and in the parking lot of the mall, where they will wait and sweat and wait some more until the big show.

It's a big show for all us hayseeds. Not anywhere as big as the big show in Houston. But we like it just fine.

Happy Fourth of July to all ya'll.
More heart-warming 4th of July reading:

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