“On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord. We remain a young nation, but …. the time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our capacity remains undiminished. But our time of standing pat, of protecting narrow interests and putting off unpleasant decisions – that time has surely passed. Starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and begin again the work of remaking America.” – Barack Obama
She was four years old with gravel pocked knees and stubbed toes that peeked out from treasured, but already scuffed, sandals. Those sandals were an ideal braking mechanism for her wagon and tricycle and those knees usually bore band aids that were as proudly worn as medals. Under normal circumstances she was a perpetual motion machine and her excitement, of the “is it time yet” variety, knew no bounds. Today was going to be difficult for those around her and a plan and “minder” were needed to keep her at bay. Not only was there to be a 4th of July parade, but a War Bond rally complete with a pony, carousel and ferris wheel was planned for the afternoon and early evening. An added bonus would be fireworks to end the day with even more excitement.
Early on she let it be known that she was going to be in the parade rather than watch it. The big question was what her role in the parade should be. It was a multiple choice question. Should she carry a flag and march, decorate and pull her wagon or ride her crepe festooned tricycle with the bigger kids? Her mother thought marching was a great idea but Little Miss thought she should ride her trike and have it pull her wagon. Given the distance to be covered, it was decided that she’d pull her wagon, but she’d have a spotter who could take over if she became too tired to march.
If seen today, the parade would be a disappointment. Gas rationing kept vehicles, including those belonging to the police and fire department from participating. Fortunately, Mr Mele was around to lead the parade with his horse and wagon. He rode through the neighborhood each week and was easily identified by the children who called him the “rag man.” He rode through the streets calling, “Old clothes ma-an,” taking whatever disposables folks wanted to get rid of. He was joined most weeks by Tony, the organ grinder, who made his living sharpening knives while his monkey entertained the children. And on this 4th of July, Tony led the pet contingent of the parade wearing his top hat and flag banner but his street organ still played “O Solo Mio.” The kids in high school band provided musical interludes of “You’re A Grand Old Flag” and “God Bless America” as they marched and they would start the evening fireworks with their rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.” The older members of Veteran’s of Foreign Wars marched with flags and as they passed bystanders would place their hands over their hearts. They were followed by the bicycle and wagon brigade and the girl and boy scouts brought up the rear. Little Miss finished the route without the help of her minder and waved at all, much like the queen or Miss America, and she would later unrelentingly check to see who had seen her in the parade.
The afternoon was one of wonder. She rode a pony for the first time and they had trouble getting her off the carousel. There was no cotton candy – sugar was rationed – but she had her first hot dog and because it was a special day she had both popcorn and a Dixie cup. And while she would later insist she had won a Kewpie doll, it was actually given to her by a neighbor who didn’t like the wing like projections on its back.
An early dinner was a potluck affair. Macaroni salad and fried chicken were served with ice-less lemonade and iced tea that further had warmed while sitting in the afternoon sun. There was also an insistence that naps be taken if fireworks were to be seen once it was dark. Now napping was not an easy thing. The summer heat and humidity in Chicago rivaled that of a steam bath and there was no air conditioning in homes at that time. The duplex in which Little Miss lived had a flat roof and the heat in the upstairs bedrooms was like that from a blast furnace. While she insisted she couldn’t sleep because ants were crawling all over her, she eventually dozed off and assured her place at the evening’s fireworks.
And of all the things she would remember about that 4th of July, the fireworks were the most memorable. Because of the War Bond rally the fireworks were professionally done and the final volley was a series of sky rockets that burst overhead and sprinkled stars that fell like rain on the crowd below. Little Miss already loved Christmas and Halloween, but from that night forward Independence Day became her third favorite holiday. That, after all, was the day she learned you can’t catch a falling star.