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the great american 4th of july
parades, fireworks, and good friends
by robert a. melos

July 4th has always been my holiday. Not my personal holiday, mind you, but the one holiday I could celebrate without feeling I was taking a side in something. It was universal, at least in the idea of a day for parades, picnics, and fireworks all for the sake of parades, picnics, and fireworks. Sure, it was the country’s birthday also, but for me it was the day my eclectic friends and family gathered in my backyard to eat hotdogs, hamburgers, grilled chicken, roasted pork loins, corn on the cob, watermelon, cantaloupe, strawberries, and assorted chips and dips, drink beer, wine and assorted other drinks, and just chill.

The day usually starts off with a cannon being fired in the park in the center of town. Now if you’ve never heard a cannon blast, even from a quarter of a mile away it is loud. Every dog within ten miles has thus been warned this is not a good day to come out from under the bed. But for me, being human, it is a sign the festivities are close at hand.

The cannon blast at six AM signifies the beginning of 10K run. As you may have guessed, the cannon blast signifies for me the time to roll over and sleep for several more hours. By nine AM I have no choice but to get out of bed because the parade that runs down Main Street lines up on the side streets and in front of my house. Nothing says get out of bed like a high school marching band practicing “Ready To Take A Chance Again” from the movie Foul Play. The tuba solo is enough to launch you from beneath the sheets.

So I shower, dress and stroll down to the main drag, where I can sit along the curb, or on the porch of one of the local funeral homes, conveniently located on opposite corners from each other, and watch the parade pass by. For the next hour to hour and a half I’m treated to every fire company, rescue squad unit, high school marching band, twirling squad, civic organization, ladies group, church group, and local beauty queens in the state, going by blowing sirens, tooting horns, playing movie themes, cheering and tossing candy and stickers, and assorted holiday gifties and treats, until the final float carrying the beloved Miss Milltown of the moment brings up the rear of the parade.

After that it’s off to the park for the non-alcoholic festivities including a semi-known local band that plays three songs very well, one of them being the Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes version of “Havin’ A Party.” After scarfing down a hotdog, the remainder of the early afternoon is spent in the grocery store picking up the last minute items for the family gathering, like charcoal, lighter fluid, a grill. Just the sundry items I left for the last minute.

People start arriving before I return from my last minute shopping, but that’s okay because they know their way around a bottle opener. All they really need is ice, and anyone who doesn’t know enough to bring their own is S.O.L. Finally I arrive home to the greeting of friends clamoring for ice and a bathroom, not in that order, and I know the afternoon has promise of being a time to celebrate not only the birth of the nation but to celebrate good friendships.

The heat of the day, usually muggy in central New Jersey by the beginning of July, is cooled by the clinking of ice cubes in glasses and the chilled salsa dip that I forgot to buy chips for. The grill is setup, charcoal tossed in, lighter fluid squirted on, and a match tossed in from a safe distance. Poof! Smoke and fire. A little beer tossed on to douse some of the flames and then I’m ready to cook.

Much like watching the cable classic "Biker Billy Cooks With Fire," the backyard picnic takes on a whole quality uniquely its own. The girls gather to braid each other’s hair, and talk about the important things in life, like finding a new husband before unemployment runs out or getting a new tattoo. The guys quickly get bored with the grilling and go off to play Jarts, commonly know as lawn darts. The latter goes decidedly not well after several drinks and still no hot food, but those are the risks of the game.

Some of the children wander off toward the highway, causing mothers to go off in a tizzy, trying not to spill their drinks while running in floppy high heels across the parking lot and lawn of the Silverline Windows And Doors factory behind my house. Ah, the memories.

The day goes by quickly filled with friends blowing off steam, and several dozen blocks of firecrackers picked up from trucker buddies in the weeks before the festivities. Soon it is getting near dark and the town is filling up again, because my hometown is one of three in the area that actually has fireworks displays. Each town takes a turn for three nights in a row, if the holiday falls on a weekend. Milltown always has their display on the 4th. After all, it is the quintessential American small town.

Everyone gathers along the streets, on front lawns, and in the park where the displays is launched, and the night skies are filled with brilliant colors, and the sounds of explosions followed by applause and ohs, and ahs, until the final firework, the big one with all the mini explosions and the loud echoing booms, and the cheers of the appreciative crowd finish out the day.

The friends and family all scatter to the four winds before I get back to the house, and I end up cleaning up the yard in the pitch dark because some guy with lousy aim took out our flood lights with a lawn dart, but I wouldn’t have it any other way because it is the great American 4th Of July.


Robert is the author of the novels Cool Mint Blue, Melba Ridge, and the recently released The Adventures of Homosexual Man and Lesbian Lad; and the creator of the on-line comix Impure Thoughts found at his web site Inside R.A. Melos, as well as having been an on-line staff writer for QBliss where he had a monthly humor column, Maybe A Yip, Maybe A Yap. In his non-writing time, when he's not studying the metaphysical or creating a tarot deck, he sells real estate in Middlesex County New Jersey, hangs out with his dog Zeus, and spends time at the Pride Center of New Jersey in Highland Park, NJ, where he is on the Board of Trustees.

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