by Kim Keller
For me, the Fourth of July has always epitomized the easygoing vibe of summertime. I suppose I’ve always loved the holiday because I have so many happy memories from childhood, a simpler, happier time when both my parents were young and healthy and I didn’t have a care in the world.
I grew up in southern New England, in a small town on the Connecticut shore. Friends and family would come visit in the summer to enjoy the beaches and the cool waters of the Long Island Sound, but the annual Fourth of July party was more of a neighborhood event, with families from up the street and down the block all joining in, as well as the friends and relatives visiting from out of town.
As with all holidays, there were certain traditions associated with the Fourth. In the morning, you would find my parents busy in the kitchen, getting ready for the afternoon festivities. My father stood over a sink filled with littleneck clams, tirelessly prying them open, one after another, placing them on a cookie sheet one at a time. Mom would be at the counter chopping mounds of onions and peppers while the aroma of frying bacon filled the room. Mom and Dad seemed to enjoy the teamwork of preparing the clams casino, one of the Keller family’s holiday staples.
Once the clams were ready to go, my mother would turn her attention to the cake. She always made a white sheet cake with whipped-cream frosting and fresh blueberries and strawberries arranged on top like an American flag.
The party was held in our backyard, hosted by our family and our next-door neighbors. It began in the early afternoon and lasted well into the night. The grills would be fired up all day long, with hot dogs and hamburgers sizzling away, and the picnic tables covered with corn on the cob and baked beans and bowls overflowing with all kinds of salads.
The grown-ups were known to enjoy a beer or two, or other summer favorites — the Madras, a chilled vodka highball made with OJ and cranberry juice, seemed especially popular. They’d pour these cocktails into tulip-shaped glasses and top it off with a wedge of lime. I remember how pretty they all looked.
We kids would be drinking lemonades and jumping in and out of each other’s pools, while our neighbor, Ray, would organize games for us to play on the lawn that connected his home and ours. There were all types of competitions: wheel-barrow races, balloon tosses, horseshoes, hula-hoop contests, three-legged races, Wiffle ball games, and each of us was eager to win one of the red, white and blue ribbons that Ray made for the kids who finished first, second and third in each event. Ray was a great Activities Director — he made all the kids feel safe and special.
Of course, what would a Fourth of July be without fireworks? It was the best part of the day! Dusk brought on the excitement and anticipation. The sparklers came out first. We each got our own pack, and we were enchanted by this glowing treat. That was a warm-up to our own little private fireworks show, orchestrated by Ray, of course, that would dazzle the whole crowd. It was a great way to end the day.
Such fun, lighthearted memories.
When I got older and moved away, I didn’t travel back home much for the Fourth of July, so the memories are frozen in time, unperturbed by the years that flashed by in what seemed like mere moments. I’m grateful for these happy memories that can pick me and transport me as reliably as any plane or train back to the smells, tastes and laughter of my uncomplicated, youthful earlier summers.
Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.
The photo was taken by Karen Keller Capuciati.