Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My favorite time of year

July has always been one of my most favorite times of the year. As a child it may have been second only to Christmas, but since reaching adulthood, July has been my hands down favorite month of the year. All my favorite things seem to happen in July.

When I was a child my grandfather lived in a suburban area that had a wonderful park with everything a child could want. Besides a playground and swimming pool, there were great picnic areas surrounded by large expanses of thick green grass perfect for cloud watching and tumbling. Wabash Park was also the setting for the most elaborate Fourth of July picnics ever held in my young life, complete with old fashioned games, lots of hand churned ice cream, a parade and spectacular fireworks show.

Each year my grandfather would reserve the largest pavilion and host our annual Family Reunion, where we would have ringside seats for the parade, take part in all the games and contests, cool off in the pool, and stuff ourselves with barbeque and watermelon. Just before dark my brother Bill, cousin George, and I would get to help Grandpa blow out the candles on a giant birthday cake. Then we would all settle down with a huge slice to watch the sky exploding in a kaleidoscope of patterns and colors.

For years my brother and I were under the impression that Grandpa planned all those wonderful events just to celebrate our birthdays. Grandpa’s birthday was on July first, followed by Bill and George’s on the third and mine on the seventh. Years later, my sister Veda chose my birthday to make her appearance into the family and added another reason to celebrate. It must be some kind of family record, having five birthdays all in one week and all within a few days of the fourth. No wonder Americana themes with fireworks became one of my favorite ways of celebrating birthdays.

The year Veda turned 21, I gave her a huge surprise blowout of a party on the fourth that included everyone dressing in only red, white and blue costumes, and I even went so far as serving only foods that were all in patriotic colors. I spent months making thousands of red, white and blue stars, bunting and pendants that covered the siding, drive, walkways and every available surface of my house and yard. We had patriotic music blaring from a loud speaker on the corner of the house, released hundreds of red-white-blue balloons into the air at one point and had a man in an Uncle Sam costume on stilts walking around the yard greeting the guests.

The year I turned forty, Veda repaid me by helping to host a surprise red, white and blue luau in my parent’s back yard. She and my sister Nancy enlisted the help of dozens of friends and family members and they dug and hauled countless truck loads of river sand that they used to turn my parents yard into a beach; built palm trees complete with parrots, made a lagoon with a waterfall and lined hundreds of hand made luminaries along the drives, walkways and yard in addition to having roast pig complete with a red apple in its mouth on a spit.

This year I traveled to Omaha to celebrate both the Fourth of July and my birthday with my birthday sister. Veda was born on my fifteenth birthday and I was given the honor of naming her. As a teen I thought that rhyming names was cute so she became Veda to go with my Rita.

While we did not plan to do anything special this year in the way of celebrations it turned out to be one of the best birthdays ever thanks to the good citizens of Omaha. The people of Omaha take their patriotism seriously and go all out to celebrate our nation’s birthday.

July Fourth began with a neighborhood parade that most of the families in my sisters subdivision took part in. Entire families showed up at the starting point decked out in every conceivable red, white and blue costume ranging from the simple shorts and tees to the most patriotic ready to walk or ride anything on wheels that could be begged or borrowed for the day. There were Dad’s on skateboards, little ladies in Barbie cars, tots in decorated coaster wagons pulled behind parents bikes, kids on trikes they outgrew years ago and some on bikes where they could barely reach the peddles.
Even the family pets were decked out and joined in the fun. Those that could not walk or ride in the parade lined the streets to cheer on those that did. Beads and candy were flying back and forth as the parade made the circle of the neighborhood.

My brother-in-law was the Grand Marshall riding a star painted, flag adorned bike in the most unique super hero costume ever. Mark named his character J4 (short for July Fourth) and he sported a striped cape and star-studded wristbands along with a huge Mad Hatter top hat.

After the parade, the block parties got started and entire streets became one big smorgasbord as tables were set up and the ladies tried to outdo each other for the record of bringing the best dish. The air became pungent with barbeque and sulfur and a cacophony of sounds as firecrackers, boom boxes, and happy children drifted on the famous Nebraska winds.

At sunset the fireworks began and went on till almost midnight. I was told that it was illegal to sell, purchase or shoot fireworks in the city of Omaha but that did not stop the men from making trips across the state line into Missouri to purchase them by the thousands as friends, neighbors and entire blocks pooled their resources trying to have the best show in the neighborhood. For hours the fireworks went off in a 360 degree circle all around us. The streets became launching grounds as yards were lined with rows of people covered in circles of jewelry made from multicolored glow sticks.

I have been to some spectacular fireworks displays in my 61 years put on by places like Disney World, Six Flags, Opryland, Fair St. Louis and many communities and civic groups, but nothing to beat the size and style of the show put on by the private citizens of the city of Omaha, Nebraska.

You can bet that I can’t think of a better place to be than with my birthday sister as we celebrate July Fourth in her front yard. We have already reserved our spot for next year. Anyone want to join us?

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