It’s the 4th of July. In about six hours, we are having a picnic at our house. And thinking of this reminds me of all the family picnics at 4th of July gatherings growing up.
For many years, these took place at my grandparents home on Cohasset Drive on the South Side. They had a lovely old home with a second floor screened porch in back and a finished attic. It was a place I loved to explore as a kid.
My grandmother loved to cook, like many other Youngstowners. And it seemed she always pulled out the stops for family picnics. There was usually a couple varieties of homemade potato salad, three bean salads, baked beans, cole slaw, and corn on the cob if she could get it, and strawberry shortcake for dessert with whipped cream (and not the stuff out of a can or tub!).
Grilling was grandpa’s work and he’d always be gathered with the other men around the grill, knocking back some cold ones while the dogs, brauts, and burgers were grilling. It was here that I discovered what a hamburger should really look and taste like, sticking out of the edge of the bun, savoring of the charcoal, juicy and thick, topped with a slice of tomato, maybe an onion, some pickles. As a kid we weren’t choosy though. A hot dog with some relish and mustard was joy on a bun!
After dinner (and there were always chips and my grandmother’s Chex mix to munch on) the guys would set up horse shoe stakes in the back yard and pitch horseshoes. How I looked forward to being old enough to be able to join them! Some years, we would set up a croquet set in the back yard. I loved to “send” my dad or my brother’s ball under the bushes along the side of the yard. Sooner or later they would return the favor.
Meanwhile the women would all be gathered around the picnic table sipping tea or lemonade. I wasn’t a part of these gatherings so only the Lord (and other women) knows what they talked about!
As twilight came everyone gathered around to talk and enjoy the cooling air. Usually there were several citronella candles lit to keep the mosquitoes away. While the adults talked, us kids would get a jar and go catch “lightning bugs” (as we called fireflies). It was always fun to see who would catch most, but you had to remember to put holes in the jar lid so they could breathe. I had a cousin who forgot this and went to look at his lightning bugs the next morning only to find “they all woke up dead!” Sometimes, we’d make our own “lightning” with sparklers, especially to celebrate the 4th.
If it was the 4th of July, we’d often leave in time to drive over to Rocky Ridge on the West Side to give us a good view of the fireworks display at Idora Park. You could look across Mill Creek Park and get a great view of all but the ground level fireworks.
We weren’t a big family and so we could gather in a backyard. Others had their picnics in Mill Creek Park or even reserved one of the shelters in the park for their gatherings. What all these had in common was a day away from work and the routines of life. It was a time to remember that life is good, that even for all our contentions, family is family, and that America was a great place to live.
Happy 4th of July to all my Youngstown friends! Hope it is a day of fun gatherings and good eating!