JULY 5, 2018 – “It looks like summer’s half over,” my father would pronounce around the Fourth of July each year, something I always thought was pretty strange. School had only been out a short time and we hadn’t yet adjusted our mental and physical being to a summer of relaxing, staying up late, and schlepping by public transportation to City Point Beach in South Boston, or maybe even a bigger trek to Revere.
Yet, my father was convinced that fall was just around the corner. Maybe it was because back then, department stores were already marking down summer clothes and bathing suits to get the shelves ready for back-to-school shopping.
I wasn’t ready to pronounce the end of summer, not when we still had our annual Ward 14 Fourth of July celebration to look forward to at Franklin Field in Dorchester. I can’t tell you how near or far you lived, but somehow you made it to the park that was a magical mecca for most of us.
At any time, you could find elderly gentlemen embroiled in a game of bocce. There was always someone to fill in, or begin a game, or just plain kibbitz. Onlookers, especially, were good at that.
Then there were the many tennis courts where younger men showed off their physique while giggling girls watched. Of course, there were also the female players, some even serious about the game. By the way, all the activities were free.
By day, Franklin Field attracted young moms walking babies in carriages, kids tossing a ball to each other, or families and friends sharing a snack or picnic lunch. But come the Fourth of July, it took on an entirely different mystique.
Oh sure, there were morning activities for the younger kids when Hoodsies were given out courtesy of Julius Ansel, who died in 1965. Ansel was definitely well-known. Born in Russia, he was the only Jewish city councilor from 1948 to 1951, State Representative from 1953 to 1955 and again from 1959 to 1965, and State Senator in 1965. He tried to run for Mayor of Boston in 1963, but lost in the preliminaries. It certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. The man had chutzpah. He worked out of the G&G Jewish deli, and even put the G&G’s address and telephone number on his business cards, and expected employees to take his messages and probably include a corned beef sandwich and a pickle with it.
I also can remember participating in simple contests on the Fourth. In one you chomped on a Saltine cracker and whistled when you finished. If you still had the cracker in your mouth, you’d spray crumbs all over the place. That was everybody except me. I never did know how to whistle out (and I still don’t.) I whistled in, and won the contest.
But that was just kid stuff; the big thing was the annual fireworks display, set to go off when it was dark. Long before the appropriate time, folks began to pour out of all triple-decker homes and apartments of all the neighborhoods. They came down from the streets of Mattapan, from Gallivan Boulevard and down Morton Street, from Talbot Avenue and Roxbury. Some came in groups, others came as singles and connected with their friends, and some were families with baby carriages filled with little tykes and supplies.
I don’t know how it happened, but no one seemed afraid. There were never any reports of stalking, rape, kidnapping, or any of the terrible things we hear about today. Even if a kid got separated, it wasn’t for long; everyone seemed to know who belonged to whom. It was all one big neighborhood, and everyone looked out for everyone else.
The most difficult part of the evening was finding your own little piece of grass you could sit on when the fireworks went off. Of course, there were the little blips and sounds of some of the fireworks a few families set off. The only ones we had access to were the sparklers, the little snakes that curled up when they burned down, and the caps from the cap guns that some kids would get to sound off by hitting with a rock.
Enough of all that: we were primed and ready for the big event even if, as my father would say, summer was going to be half over.
I can’t tell you how many fireworks were set off but I know there were quite a few. And every single one, every cluster and every rocket flare, was met with the same oohs, ahhs, and wide-eyed wonder.
It was truly magical.
We wanted that magic to continue forever, but of course, all good things must come to an end. And after a big volley, it was over, all except for the finale: the American flag made up of red, white, and blue sparklers with the famous line underneath: “Brought to you by Julius Ansel, Boston City Councilor.”
Myrna Fearer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.