Monday, July 4, 2011

A Hometown 4th of July

Today is the 4th of July!
My favorite holiday as far as holidays go. Even better than Christmas, except of course there’s no gifts. 

But if you grew up in Port Chester, where I did, then 4th of July means only one thing:  The 3 B’s…beaches, barbeques and… beautiful fireworks at the High School. 

Okay, I took some liberty there with the B’s, but 2 B’s and an F just didn’t sound right.

I think Port Chester puts on the best fireworks display in the area.  My friends in Stamford used to invite us to see theirs, but aside from sitting on the beach and watching them burst over the Sound, they paled in comparison to Port Chester’s. I guess they paled so much that now they don’t even have them anymore. 

I mean they were nice—any kind of fireworks show is nice—but they just lacked the tradition, charm and ambience of a Port Chester 4th of July, at least for this hometown boy.  Sure, I never win the essay contest, but just you wait…one of these days…

When I was a kid, our 4th of July usually began with a quick trip to Oakland Beach, or Rye Beach, or Middle Beach, depending on where we were sitting. I never quite understood all the names, so basically
I just called it “The Beach”.

Back then a beach card cost just a few bucks and maybe a dime to get your toes in the water.

Today…it’s more. 

Back then you had to fight your way through huge crowds of people just to claim a tiny spot in the sand to set down your dad’s scratchy, old, olive green army blanket; the one with the giant grape juice stain in the upper right corner. 

Once settled, we’d open up the Scotch cooler, grab a grape soda, and jump in the water. Maybe even take a swim out to the float…but only at low tide.

If you were lucky you might’ve scored a hot dog from the snack bar, and if you were real lucky you might have scored a pretzel stick…maybe even two.

After the beach, we’d come home for a family barbecue in one of my Aunt’s backyards, which were both within walking distance of the High School. We’d stuff ourselves with hot dogs and hamburgers for an afternoon “snack”, then fried chicken and potato salad for dinner, with lots of watermelon in between.  Then off to the High School…

Back then, we didn’t have the big Grucci, computer choreographed displays we have now.   Back then we had “Arnie’s Real Good Fireworks” and a half dozen lines of mortar shells, which took most of the day to set up, and a poor guy, probably Arnie, running  back and forth with a flair lighting each one off individually, and running away like a mad man.

Throw in a couple of cool ground displays and we had ourselves a show!

Sitting on that scratchy old blanket…again… on the field between the High School and Park Avenue School—before someone decided it would be better to fence it off and cram everyone onto the Park Avenue School lawn—it was the most magical of shows.

If you came early, and sat in the bleachers there were also a lot of speeches and other goings on. Sometimes there would be a squad of army guys demonstrating how they would over run and capture College Avenue.


And then, at last, Arnie would set off the first rocket and the oohs and aaahs would commence.  

Sure, those fireworks were nothing like today’s…but siting on that smelly, rash inducing blanket, decorating my t- shirt with a red white and blue Good Humor on a stick and risking incarceration by waving a pathetic little sparkler around like a manic little fool…it was a show that will never be topped in my imagination

And after Arnie rocked us with the grandest of finales—and the final big BOOM!— that Grand ol’ Flag of fire would light up, and the roar from the crowd would stay in your head all year long.

Now that’s a 4th of July!  A Port Chester 4th of July.

See you at the Fireworks. I hope Arnies’ there too!

If you’d like more  4th of July, check out

"Firing Up for the 4th of July"

“Morgan on the 4th of July” 


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