Tough choices … Bonfire or Outdoor Movie?

If there were one day of the year that I could recreate, it would be a Fourth of July of my youth.

Weeks out of school and a long way from the history lessons of founding fathers, we had almost forgotten the reasons for the celebration — but not the best part!  Living in the city meant a bonfire. With the crackle of salutes and the pop of Roman candles echoing through the neighborhood, the biggest challenge of July 4th was to build the biggest bonfire.  “We’ll light it in the middle of the intersection.”

We stored our wood supplies under the cover of bushes, porches and rear yards. As dark crept in, kids carried their wood to the pile, making half turns, winding out a throw to the top like a discus toss, piling wood as high as a first-floor level of a tenement house.  Someone ran from the shadows, splashing liquid that smelled like the Shell Station on the pile.  A match and whoosh, the boom and crackles of the fire blew.

The neighborhood, once lit by dim streetlights, was now alive with a dancing glow of yellows, reds, green and the smell of dense smoke.  Shadows that covered trees and houses disappeared. Flames danced in the windows. Thinking the neighbors would be happy with the celebration, we were stunned to hear “Damn kids! Call the cops! Get the fire department before we all go up in flames!”

Later, in bed, but too excited to sleep, I lay awake listening to the booms of cherry bombs exploding.

Some summers, we rented a cottage on the Narragansett shore where we went to the outdoor movies on Saturday nights. Bearing blankets, sweatshirts, hats, long khaki pants, Citronella Oil and an Army flashlight hooked to my belt, we strolled to a nearby store where in the lot was a white wooden screen attached to a four-foot post bearing  a cone-shaped speaker. Propped on a nearby table was a two-reel projector with its wire running along the lot to and through a barely open store window.

The soft light bathing the parking lot and the one flowing from the projector attracted swarms of moths and an occasional June bug.  A buzz tickled my ears. I felt a nip on my hand. I slapped. Splat. Blood! Mosquitoes! Platoons arising from the camouflage of the nearby marsh swarmed like enemy bombers.

With the speed of a gunslinger, I whipped out the Citronella and spread its yellow oil on my face (ugh) neck and arms. The stink was sickening, but not for the mosquitoes. They loved it. They dove to dine.

A welcoming breeze from the ocean carried a salty dew to my face. My sun-warmed skin was cold.  Goose bumps blended with bites. I yearned for my warm bed.  The movie ended. Floodlights lit.  Folding chairs snapped. Car engines started. The fog lifted. The horn stopped. It was time to go.

We started our walk to the cabin accompanied by fireflies under a clear sky with a full moon, brilliant stars, and waves crashing in the distance as I thought of bonfires, fireworks and outdoor movies.

I love the Fourth of July.  It means summer.

** Published GoLocalProv July 1, 2019