Time of Innocence
Growing up in a SMALL TOWN in NJ, the 4th of July was a huge celebration for families and friends just like it was in so many other small towns across the country. We could hardly wait for that day into the night, MID-SUMMER EXTRAVAGANZA which included a local beauty pageant, parade and fireworks display. However, what made the 4th so exciting was seeing friends we had not been with since school let out the month before. I remember at the time, feeling like it had been months since we had been together, but in actuality, no more than 3 or 4 weeks had passed since the end of the previous school year. The 4th of JULY SPECTACLE (how my 8 year old brain remembers the day), represents the innocence of those times and really calls out the difference between the lazy days of summer when my friends and I grew up compared to how my own children and friends' kids were raised. We were the “home when the street lights come on” generation. There were no play dates but rather, you went out in the morning and made it as far as your bike would take you (always with someone on the handle bars), as long as you were home by dinner. After we all ate, we then met back outside for night time competitions in the streets. Many parents in our age group have probably told our children that we played outside all day long..and that is no exaggeration. We explored in the woods, built forts and competed with one another. There were endless games of kickball, manhunt, kick the can, baseball and this went on day and night throughout the summer. Kids of all ages mingled because you needed the numbers for your teams. The next day, this started all over again. Sure, we all had that week's family vacation - oh, when your best friend from down the street (Dawn) was on her vacation, it was the longest week of the summer. Your friend was missed but the games of the day went on, just a man down for the week.
There is something about the 4th of July that shines a light on the simplicity of that time period. Our neighborhood friends met up with schoolmates from other neighborhoods at the Berlin Parade and that was so exciting. We all bragged about what we had been doing over the summer. We attended this local 4th event every year when we were in grade school even into our early high school years so although the stories changed throughout the decade, the sentiment was the same. There of course were no social media updates to alert one another prior to the 4th as to what we had done or even how we already changed so seeing one another in person was just amazing. Parents were not driving us all over the place to see one another during the summer, there were no summer sporting tournaments, or camps, so literally, you entertained yourself with the kids outside your front door. We truly looked forward to this one, simple, day with the excitement that our children growing up would have looked forward to a Disney Cruise! It was just a different time!
Reuniting with School Friends
When we met up with these friends, we talked about getting together later in the summer and sometimes we did, more often we didn’t. For the most part, we went back to our daily games outside with our same old friends and looked forward to returning to school to see the whole crew again. Since becoming an adult and thinking back to the different life experiences my (now grown) kids had during the summer, I often reflect on my old town’s 4th of July event. Our children were a bit more indulged and certainly had so many more experiences during their summer break than I ever had - and no regrets for sharing those experiences with them. But, despite a more active summer as kids, I can’t help to wonder if my children missed out on appreciating such a simple pleasure like we did that one, thrilling day of the summer.
As an adult watching fireworks, I am taken back in time - the smells of the crackling sparkles in the sky and the feeling of the warm air rushing over my body. However, for those 30 minutes as the sky illuminates, I am that 8 year old just so happy to see my school friends that I hadn’t seen in such a "long time." It wasn't extravagant but to us, on that one day of the year, it didn't get any better than that.