It’s 1967. The 4th of July is tomorrow, and we can’t wait. We’ve hauled bales and stacked them in the hay barn, pulled weeds, picked rock and been good. Well, generally good.
Dad and Mom had finally consented that we would get fireworks.
We piled into the Chevy, careful not to fight too loudly over who got the window. Since my little sister was very little and sat in the front, and I was next little, I got the middle–usually.
We journeyed south past corn and wheat fields, Hoefs’ and Willprechts’ farms and a handful of others. It took Dad 30 minutes, but we made it across the border. The rural fireworks stand stood just inside the city limits of Claire City, S.D., which wasn’t a city so much as an outpost, population–give or take a couple hundred.
We parked, then stood before the layers of fireworks like kids salivating before tins of candy laid out at Dallman’s, Lidgerwood’s local dimestore. Mom grabbed a pack of Black Cat firecrackers and put them under her arm. The story of how she–as a red-headed, pig-tailed girl, had outsmarted her much-older big brother, was legend.
Mom loved firecrackers and playing jokes on people. When Mom’s brother, our Uncle Howard, was in the out-house doing his duty, she carefully placed a firecracker under a tin can and waited. When she heard Howard preparing to exit, she lit the cracker. It went off just as he walked out, then landed on his head. There was blood involved–his. Mom escaped with only his yells ringing in her ears.
On this night, we all wandered over to a section that held the family-pack boxes. A flier had arrived with the local newspaper, The Lidgerwood Monitor, the week before, and we had tried to sway our parents every year toward the pack that held the most pieces, but alas, they chose a lesser version. Upon closer inspection, we had to say that it was a pretty good choice: fountains, Roman candles, snakes, sparklers, a few more firecrackers and even a Chinese Pagoda.
The dimes and nickels we’d been hoarding since Easter were wearing themselves out in our jeans pockets. I chose wisely: snaps, charcoal snakes, smoke bombs and a turtle that was supposed to move when lit.
We headed back to the farm, too wound-up to sleep, until the heat of our little farm home made us too tired to do anything else.
The 4th came with unrelenting heat, and Dad was already setting the green-glass Coca-Cola bottle out by the yard-pole in preparation for little bottle rockets. It was covered in soot, and kept on the basement steps for safe-keeping. Dad also found a spot for the heavy, iron pole used to launch the light-up-the-night fireworks.
Now, for every year of my memory, no matter where we started out–in town for a parade, at Grandma Trittin’s or the Pankows, we’d end up at Urban and Patty’s.
We didn’t have the biggest yard, but we had a hay barn that was situated just right. All us kids would tramp up the barn steps, open the west hay-loft door and sit there, brown and mosquito-bitten legs dangling, cuddling kittens, with the dog by our side, to watch Lidgerwood’s, Wyndmere’s and the neighbor’s fireworks. It was perfect. It was childhood.
See it below in this family photo from 1979.
After the local area shows, it was our turn. We’d bundle up to cover as much skin as possible against more mosquitoes who were bent on torturing us deep in the night, although we couldn’t care less as we tore into the fireworks box like Christmas morning. Everyone brought some, and some brought a car trunk full.
We shot up the night sky and then some.
We ran around the yard until we couldn’t, then played “Hope to see the Ghost tonight,” while Mom and Dad cut up watermelon, made iced-tea and set out brownies for everyone in the kitchen’s glare. We’d run in to grab some melon that tasted like summer, then run back out for seed-spitting contests in the dark.
The 4th of July is still a treasured tradition at the Trittin Farm. It’s my little brother’s favorite holiday (yes, there are five of us), and now we celebrate “across the road” at his family’s home, with loads of family and friends. The fireworks are bigger and for a time, my brother’s family even had water-fireworks.
This year, I’ll walk over to the old yard, where I knew my first July 4 celebrations. I’ll circle ’round the wind-charger, where we burned the remnants of those celebrations and remember how we–me and some cousins, raced away when a “dud” Roman candle decided to come alive and shoot right at us.
Then I’ll head back over, across the road, for some watermelon and fireworks. This year, they’ll light up the sky once again, and I’ll just bet that somewhere, there are children sitting in a hay barn, laughing, waiting for the show to begin.