Well, the Fourth of July is sure going to be a strange one this year. When I was a kid we often referred to the fireworks-and-barbecue-laden holiday as “the halfway mark” as far as our summer vacation was concerned.
After all, our last day of school was typically around June 5 or so in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and even though we did not step foot back in school until after Labor Day weekend (these August starts for kids are just plain crazy, in my opinion) it still sure as heck somehow felt like the summer was half over. Even if it was only one month later.
This Independence Day doesn’t even seem like it’s possible for the year to feel halfway over.
As for independence — despite the fact that the true purpose of the holiday is to commemorate the day when the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776 — this year we’ll really be squeezing all that we can out of the word. After over four months of most of us being locked inside our homes, independence has become priority number one.
As a kid growing up in the Morris Cove section of New Haven, most of our Independence day’s ended with us on “The Seawall,” in the same spot and on the same blanket, where we could watch a spectacular fireworks display that felt as if we were sharing with West Haven. There they were, across the water, on the beach nestled before the old Chick’s Drive-In, visible by binocular (a good one anyway), and we’d “ooh” and “aah” in unison.
There were so many versions of the same Fourth of July, ya know? That blanket with my siblings and parents. That blanket with just my siblings. That blanket with a girl.
That one really stands out. It was the summer before my senior year in high school and the fireworks display paled in comparison to the fireworks going off between the two of us. It was magic. Like an episode of “The Wonder Years.”
Later, during my late teens and early 20s, I braved the breakers on a boat — be it my row or a friend’s motor — where some of the fireworks would rain down on us after doing their thing.
One year I found myself amid something truly special. It was 1995. The World Special Olympics were in full gear with what everyone was referring to as the “tall ships” passing across our waters right around the Fourth.
I hadn’t paid much attention to all of the talk about these tall ships in the days and weeks leading up to that Fourth of July, but as my boat pushed off from the dock at the New Haven Yacht Club, which is nestled on a corner in Morris Cove, we immediately saw them in the distance. What a sight to behold.
Plenty of boaters were making use of the club’s moorings that day, and well into the night, dropping anchor, paying for the few hours of “parking” so they could grab a quick bite, be it at a friend’s or the local pizza joint, and then make it out in time for the fireworks. Fireworks I was sure we’d be back in a friend’s backyard in time for — but certainly not out on the water as the impressive tall ships sailed by.
The ships, while moving ever so slowly, still managed to create quite the wake, and our little motorboat fared fairly well, though seasickness for at least one of the four on board seemed inevitable. But we all did just fine.
As day slowly turned to night and my friend at the helm made it clear that we simply had to stay in the middle of all the action, I battened down the hatches for what I knew would be one heck of a July 4th.
There was jubilant shouting back and forth between vessels, and posing for pictures that didn’t get “posted immediately” (we had no smart phones back them). We anxiously awaited them getting developed to revisit the night through them. Time and again, and to this very day.
And the fireworks! I believe that year a local radio station pulled off a simulcast of sorts, meaning that if you located the station your portable radio’s dial, the music would coincide with what was exploding in the sky at the time. It only added to the excitement. Some of the ships were so old, seemingly “giving off” history. The fireworks only got bigger, got better, going from red to white to blue and then doing it all over again. Some would hit the water with a little life still left in them, and you’d hear the fizzle.
This year there could be the stuff of fizzle, especially considering how shut down so much of the state - the country - is. But in the end it depends on you, your attitude going in, and the company you keep. Not even so much the fireworks display you take in.
After all, that July 4th circa 1995 was certainly special, but it couldn’t hold a candle to the one the summer before my senior year in high school.