Fourth of July was made for community celebrations

News-DemocratJuly 3, 2014 

Here's what the Fourth of July involved back when I was a kid in the 1960s in Wellsville, Mo.

Fourth of July in small towns always seemed to involve a community celebration of sorts. There was always some kind of baseball game, or softball game, or several of them, followed by a fireworks display.

It was a time when the boys ran wild -- at least the boys whose parents weren't there. These were the kind of kids who were always at the forefront of fun, at the razor-thin edge where good times quickly turned into disaster. It was where you tried to be when your parents didn't know what you were doing.

Firecrackers flew through the air and exploded with noisy bangs but no one shot off bottle rockets because you never knew where those might land. And if one hit in the middle of the ball game then you had trouble.

I always envied the kids who would hold firecrackers in their hands, light them and then throw them, just before they exploded. I was far too cautious to try that.

Of course, sometimes the firecrackers exploded too soon. That led to some minor burns but these were the kind of kids who were used to minor injuries, farm kids. They probably didn't even tell their parents.

We would play hot box behind the stands. All you needed was a paper cup filled halfway with small gravel and folded over into a ball.

Mark off a few spots and you had bases. The object of the game was to get into a rundown and escape. At least the fast kids sometimes did. It was all good times until someone got hit in the head with the rock ball.

After all, kids throwing rocks, sliding in gravel. What could go wrong?

After the games were done, the lights went out and everyone quieted in anticipation.

Out beyond left field, pinpoints of light would wave about as the workers with flashlights and slow-burning fuses prepared to set off the fireworks display.

With a small pop and a whoosh the first would zoom into the sky. The crowd always broke into oohs and aahs as the colors blossomed in the sky.

And everyone groaned in unison at the occasional misfire which resulted in an intense white spot of light and a thunderous boom.

I'm not sure how long the displays lasted. To a young boy, it seemed like a long time, but it was never long enough. At the end, an American flag display was ignited and it burned red, white and blue as it hung from the distant scoreboard.

The town fire truck would drive around putting out grass fires. People picked up their belongings and lawn chairs and headed for their cars, creating the only traffic jam of the year on the one main highway in town.

Happy Fourth of July.

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