Today is the Fourth of July! Happy Independence Day!
At the moment, I’m listening to WFMT 98.7 FM and they’re playing Stars and Stripes Forever by John Philip Souza. Our Chicago classical radio station always plays appropriate theme music for the occasion. So, they will play patriotic music throughout the day. And they will also play some famous speeches to commemorate America’s independence.
Today, I plan on seeing a fireworks display somewhere in the Chicago area. I know longer set off fireworks as I once did in the days of my youth. The last time I blew off fireworks was about five years ago for my sons. They wanted to see fireworks up close, so I bought some in Indiana and set them off in our back yard. We actually enjoyed it! But tonight, I will merely be a spectator oohing and aahing at whatever fireworks show I end up seeing. I just love when the crowd starts oohing and aahing in unison at the pyrotechnic displays!
Enjoy the holiday. And try not to injure yourself with fireworks!
Independence Day has to be the most patriotic of all American holidays. For as long as I can remember, we celebrated the day by going on picnics, pigging out, playing soccer, volleyball, baseball, or badminton at a state park, city park, or at the beach on Chicago’s lakefront. My favorite part was always the fireworks. The last few years, everyone has been more conscious about protecting our environment. So we try not to litter and not to pollute the air. However, the Fourth of July is the one day that it’s permissable to set off illegal fireworks in Chicago. The streets are literally littered by the remains of fireworks and the air quality is clearly polluted for a day or two. Indendendence Day is a day when hardly anyone thinks green. Some people in Chicago even shoot off guns on this day. You don’t really want to be driving around while all the fireworks are in progress. It’s just too dangerous in Chicago. On the news you hear reports of people getting shot and/or getting injured by fireworks. There are also accidental fires caused by fireworks. But that’s how we celebrate in Chicago. I find it hard to believe that no one I knew was ever injured by fireworks.
Growing up in Back of the Yards, everyone had illegal fireworks. We knew all about how to handle fireworks safely, but we used to do everything possible that would place ourselves in the most possible danger. Only adults were supposed to handle fireworks. But my friends and I were lighting firecrackers since we were nine. You were supposed to set firecrackers on the ground and then light them, but we used to light them in our hands and then throw them at each other. Timing was very important. You also had to watch the others as they lit their firecrackers in order to be able to dodge any and all firecrackers that came your way AND not letting your firecracker blow of in your hand. Yes, I’m still truly amazed that no one was ever even slightly injured!
One summer, one of my friends got the idea of letting a firecracker blow up in our hand. We all thought he was crazy. But then he held his open hand palm up and let a firecracker blow up in his hand. We just stared at him in amazement. Then, he dared us to do the same thing. We all hesitated, but none of us wanted to be called chicken the rest of the summer so we all did it once. I must admit that it was rather scary watching the wick burn down until the firecracker blew up. It was loud because it was rather close to my ear and my had did stng a lot from the explosion, but I didn’t get burned or anything.
One summer, on the fifth of July, I woke up early and I walked all through the neighborhood picking all the dud firecrackers that I could find. I carefully collected all the gunpowder from them and put it in a lead pipe about four inches long. I put a cap on one end of the pipe and a firecracker on the other. I wasn’t even sure if this thing would blow up. But if it did, I knew it would be a huge blast. All my friends wanted to see the explosion, but I told them that they had to hide until after the explosion was over.
We had a clubhouse in our back yard at our house at 4405 S. Wood Street. I set the pipe down by the clubhouse. My plan was to light the firecracker in the pipe and hide behind the clubhouse. I only had to take two steps to duck for cover. I made sure everyone was hiding before I even thought about lighting it. Well, I lit it, I turned to run, and I took only two steps when the pipe blew up. I barely made it behind the clubhouse for cover. That is, most of me had made it, save for my left foot. I felt the blast on my foot and at first I thought I had blown off my foot. About a second later, I heard some of the shredded pipe pieces falling on the concrete in the alley. When the smoke cleared, I looked at my foot. I was wearing low-cut gym shoes and the blast had blown off the part of my sock that covered my ankle. But I was uninjured! By sheer luck!
Now, every Fourth of July, I keep a wary eye on my sons lest they injure themselves with fireworks. Of course, I never tell them any of the things we used to do with fireworks when we were boys. I don’t want to give them any ideas!
I have many fond memories of New Year’s Eve beginning in my childhood when our entire family would go to my Uncle Simon’s and Aunt Mari’s house. The party always involved eating a lot of Mexican food and real hard play among cousins. At midnight, everyone, I mean children, too, toasted with a glass of champagne. That was the only time of the year I drank alcohol–until I became an altar boy and my friend once talked me into taking a sip of altar wine before mass. But I only indulged that once because I felt so guilty and sinful afterwards.
Once, we were in Mexico for New Year’s Eve and we celebrated by making tamales and eating them. In Chicago, my mother made the masa during the day and then made buñuelos at midnight as a way of ringing in the new year. I think that New Year’s Eve wasn’t as exciting once we stopped going to my aunt’s and uncle’s house. I don’t really remember too many of those later celebrations now. When I was married, I was content to stay home with my wife and son and watch the festivities in Chicago on TV. When I lived in Bridgeport, I used to take my oldest son to the attic window at midnight where we could see the fireworks downtown. When the twins were born, we moved farther away from downtown, so we could no longer see the fireworks from the window. But we watched them on TV, although not quite as dramatic.
Later, after my divorce, my Mexicana girlfriend decided that we would make tamales for New Year’s Eve. She bought a giant pot for the tamales and lots and lots of masa. We would make tamales together, just the two of us. Actually, I enjoyed making the tamales. In Mexico, I only got to watch the women of the family make the tamales; males weren’t allowed to touch the masa. My girlfriend showed me how to mix the meat into the masa and stuff the masa into the corn husk. She had made tamales a few times and actually knew what she was doing. We even made some sweet tamales with raisins. We had about six different kinds of tamales. We literally did this for at least two hours and the giant pot was still only half-full. However, she insisted that we fill the pot all the way to the top. We filled the pot at about 3:00 a.m. And I was exhausted! But wait! She put a penny at the bottom of the pot where there was boiling water to steam the tamales. The flame underneath had to be at just the right temperature and you could tell if the temperature was just right because the penny would keep making noise as the boiling water moved it. The only time I really saw tamales made was in Mexico as a boy, but my mother and aunts cooked the tamales over a bonfire. Well, I went to bed about 6:00 a.m. because I couldn’t stay awake anymore. She stayed up to keep adding water and ensuring that the tamales cooked properly. I didn’t realize they would involve so much work. She woke me up a few hours later when they were done. She had stayed up the whole time! We then ate the tamales and they were so delicious! We ate them later that day. And the next day, too. There were so many tamales that she put some in her fridge and froze the some in her freezer. And there were still some tamales leftover! So I took some home and put them in my freezer. We ate tamales until the Fourth of July! And we never got tired of them. We loved them!
Happy 231st Birthday, United States of America! On this national holiday, everyone will celebrate by picnicking, barbecuing, watching fireworks, and of course, setting off our own fireworks. We may worry about polluting our environment, but we get a special dispensation in order to celebrate our nation’s independence and blow things up. Try to stay out of the emergency room. Don’t get burned when barbecuing, don’t blow your fingers of with your fireworks, and most importantly, don’t overeat and raise your cholesterol level to astronomical heights.
During all these celebrations, take a moment to look around you. You will see Americans all around celebrating this special day. Some of them will be Mexicans, perhaps undocumented. I know we always forward to this day. Occasionally, we would have a family picnic on the Fourth of July. We would do all the traditional American activities, but we would barbecue carne asada, elotes, and tamales and have a piñata for the kids. We even played Lotería using beans for the markers. But we always celebrated the Fourth of July!
Last night I went to a Fourth of July celebration in Phoenix, Arizona. Most of the spectators were of Mexican descent. There were also a few whites and Native Americans, but most of the people were minorities in this sea of humanity. There were several stages were a variety of current music was played. We sat by a stage that featured two bands that covered American Pop songs. As I listened to the bands, I read a newspaper in Spanish, La Voz. No one criticized me for reading a Spanish-language newspaper. I loved the bands, even the one that covered Metallica. The crowd applauded all the bands equally. People were even dancing in front of the stage, although there was no mosh pit. Some spectators were actually singing along to many songs. This was truly an American event, despite the ethnic appearance of the spectators. Thousands of Americans came out to celebrate America’s birthday. I brought my sons to this celebration to instill the importance of patriotism to the USA. You could feel American pride throughout the crowd. We were all proud to be Americans!