July 4th doesn't seem to mean the same thing on the west coast as it does on the east coast. If you were born and raised in one of "The Colonies", like Brian and I were, July 4th is not only a day of fun and games, but also a time to celebrate the birth of our country. There are revolutionary war themed parades back east. However, the west coast is way, way younger, and very far removed from important historical places like Philadelphia and Boston. So out here, July 4th is more about a day off to drink to excess, eat to excess and then blow shit up. The whole Declaration of Independence thing is an after thought.
Sandwich in the 1970's was a different place in time. It was still a small town, where everyone knew everyone for the most part. There was a "horribles parade" in the early morning, that started and ended at the elementary school, doing the loop through town. From Wikipedia: "Parade of horribles" originally referred to a literal parade of people wearing comic and grotesque costumes, rather like the Philadelphia Mummers Parade. It was a traditional feature of Fourth of July parades in parts of the United States in the nineteenth century, and "Horribles Parades" continue to be part of the Independence Day celebration in several New England communities."
Kids decorated their bikes with streamers and stuff woven in their spokes. There were people dressed up. Classic cars, the school bands. Civic leaders, a few floats. Then after the parade it was off to the elementary school to watch, or enter, the 3-legged race, potato sack race and other "old fashioned" games from a simpler time. All the homes that ringed the school had parties so you just walked around, visiting with everyone. A fave event was The Firemen's Muster which was always good for a laugh as the fire departments for the villages of Sandwich, East Sandwich and Forestdale would compete against each other and inevitably, the firehose would get turned on and people would be drenched and screaming w/ laughter. All of the old homes in the Village were decorated with red, white & blue bunting and the effect on the white painted homes was striking.
In 1975, there was a huge parade to kick off the Bicentennial year celebration. My dad was in the Lion's Club float that depicted Washington Crossing the Delaware. He was one of the oarsmen, and my Uncle Dick was standing behind the guy who played Washington. My mom and Aunt Eve made their costumes, which costumes passed immediately into the hands of Diane and I on July 6th and boy did we have a blast that summer with our tri-cornered hats, vests, pouches and fake rifles that my dad made from wood & pipe (and I still have mine in the closet). We have home movies of the parade. When I see it I just cannot believe how little Diane, Sharon and I were, at ages 10, 12 and 10 respectively.
After the morning's activities, it was always home for lunch. After my aunt and uncle had their pool built in 1973, that's where we'd be for the rest of the afternoon. I'm not sure what we did before the pool was built, but possibly we went swimming at the beach or at Snake Pond in Forestdale, where I took swimming lessons.
Dinner would be a family barbecue with the picnic table outside at Aunt Eve and Uncle Dick's. Sometimes we were taken downtown for the fireworks, but when we were very young, we would light the sparklers that Diane & Sharon's dad, Hal, would buy on his many business trips to the south. He would get sparklers mostly, maybe a couple of other small things, but nothing major and it was enough to satisfy our need for fireworks. But when we got older, we would go back to downtown Sandwich at dusk, coated with bug spray. We'd get an Italian Ice from the ice cream truck and find a spot on the ground at Shawme Pond.
Once we staked our place, we'd listen to the band that was playing on the wooden bandstand, which is to the far left of the above photo, next to the tree. It was also decorated with red white & blue bunting, like the homes around the pond. As it started to get dark, the lighted boat parade would start from the other side of the pond. People decorated their row boats with tons of Chinese lanterns and would row past the crowd, each boat trying to outdo the other, as best as one could in a tiny row boat. Everyone would clap appreciatively, and they were all within shouting distance of the shore so there were a few loud wise cracks from those who recognized the people in the boats.
The fire department would shoot the fireworks from the point at the old cemetery, across the pond.
It was a lot of fun. In the late 70's, they stopped the fireworks b/c the cemetery was just too fragile, and the drunk people were using the yards of historic old homes as toilets. There was still the parade and events, and in high school I'd always go downtown for the day to hang out with my friends, but we didn't bother fighting the traffic to go to Falmouth or Hyannis for the fireworks. I remember a few times being with Marybeth, having walked all over town during the day, and then at night so many people, adult and children, would be at their house and people showed up with some roman candles, catherine wheels and firecrackers.
In 1986, I was lucky enough to see the Boston fireworks, which were incredible. I will never forget it. My bff Charlene had an apartment near Copley Place, behind the Pru. So I crashed at her place after we went to the Esplanade. I remember we had to climb a 6' chain link fence barrier that divided Storrow Drive so that we could get to the other side. Oh the things I was able to do in my youth! There were speakers so even though we were behind the Hatch Shell and unable to see the Boston Pops, we could hear the music. The fireworks were amazing.
In 1987, my friend Jack, cousin Diane and I went to the annual Mashpee Pow Wow on the Cape. That was fun. Then that night I went to the fireworks in Hyannis, at Kalmus Beach, with my then boyfriend Howard. We were sitting so close to where they were launching them, that all the shells broke directly over us. We were laying on our backs on the blanket looking up thinking what a great view we had. Then the flaming debris started hitting the beach all around us. We sprang up, grabbed our shit and fled down the beach, laughing maniacly at the situation, with flaming shells still raining down on our heads.
In 1988, I was in Maine for the July 2 & 3 Dead shows with Michelle. On July 4th, we drove from Freeport, Maine, over into New Hampshire and all the way to the top of Mt. Washington, the highest point in all of New England. It was so hot and hazy. When we got back to North Conway, we had dinner and stayed for their fireworks, before making the 2 hour trip back to Freeport.
In 1989, we were at a Dead show in Buffalo on July 4th. Brian and I were on the radio at a local Buffalo rock station, because it was our honeymoon and our friend Jef knew the on air talent from Massachusetts. When he told her that it was his friends' honeymoon tour, they decided to talk to us.
After we moved to California, July 4th was kind of a let down. There were no fireworks near by enough to bother with the traffic jam. Half the time San Francisco was socked in with fog so the fireworks couldn't even be seen. We would sometimes have friends over for grilling and good times. But overall, it was just another day off. No bunting. No parades. No town festivals held to coincide with the holiday.
Then we moved here and discovered that fireworks are, more or less, legal. The Indian reservations make windfall profits from the fireworks stands. Technically you aren't supposed to leave the res with the good stuff, and sometimes there is a State Patrol car sitting at the entrance and exit so then you take your chances. But overall, you can go, blow tons of money on heavy duty mortars, and get home w/o being stopped by the cops. Our neighborhood goes a bit nuts, and so did we, especially in 2002. I saved $20 a week for months and months, for "The Boomie Fund" so by the end of June, we could go nuts. And go nuts we did.
Now that we have Pepper and Sagan, we don't buy them anymore. It was fun but man, what a mess they made in the driveway. One year we were finding parachutes on the roof and trees for weeks. And it really is a waste of money on something that's going to explode, but we had the disposable income for it back then. Not so much anymore.
But I do sometimes long for those July 4ths in the 70s, in Sandwich.