Everyone else celebrated the 4th of July. We celebrated Kids' Day. My mother said, "There's a Father's Day and a Mother's Day, so there should be a Kids' Day too." My father usually added in a fake grumpy voice, "Humph! Every day is Kids' Day if you ask me!"
There could be another reason why my parents decreed it Kids' Day. All of us in the US know that this is the day the Declaration of Independence was signed. Independence from England. My mother was English. She didn't see a need to celebrate. So perhaps Kids' Day was a compromise, a peace agreement between my very patriotic Dad and my very British mother (who never did become a US citizen)?
Whatever the real reason, Kids' Day was an event we looked forward to all year. It was almost better than Christmas. Definitely better than Easter, better than our birthdays; every other holiday paled in significance too.
The day before we prepared. Mm packed the picnic things and Dad went to Manassas Ice and Fuel Company and bought big blocks of ice. I remember the man loading the ice into our car with big ice tongs. At home, Dad put the ice into sawdust to keep it from melting until we were ready to use it the next day.
July 4th started early with a breakfast picnic at the Manassas Battlefield Park. A breakfast picnic was a real treat--the park would be empty, no other visitors in sight so we could run, shout and play as much as we wanted. The morning mist rising from the ground was cooling and made the woods magical. The smell of bacon frying over a wood fire--well, you can imagine that yourself.
After breakfast we headed home to prepare for the evening cookout. I don't recall eating lunch on Kids' Day, probably because breakfast was so substantial. Dad would get his ice pick and chip the ice blocks into big round galvanized tubs. Many cans of pop (we called it soda in Manassas) were shoved down into the ice to cool. We didn't have pop at any other time of year, so this was a real treat. My favorite was cream soda. Man, I can taste that ice-cold, creamy-smooth, bubbly pop even now. Another block was chipped into another washtub; this was to cool the watermelon. The melons were huge, long and pale green with a few darker green specks.
The cookout started around 4 in the afternoon. Hot dogs were the usual fare; we might have had hamburgers but I do not remember them, and it seems to me that the cost of feeding hamburgers to 13 children and assorted neighbors would have been pretty high. Maybe in later years we had hamburgers but I don't remember them at all. What I remember are hot dogs, with ketchup and mustard. And pork 'n' beans. And macaroni salad with celery seeds and chopped celery and lots of mayonnaise. And Mom's yellow potato salad. And all the pop I wanted to drink. When the cream soda was gone, I moved on to root beer. Or to black cherry. The choices seemed endless.The watermelon was the piece de resistance. Icy cold and sliced in long wedges, the sweet juice would run down our chins, soak our shirts and leave us in sugar shock.
As the sun set and the fire burned down to embers (we cooked on wood, not charcoal) Dad would get the marshmallows and the roasting sticks. It didn't take long for the whole bag to disappear and we added charred sticky bits to the watermelon juice dried on our faces.
Last of all were the fireworks and sparklers. We didn't have anything fancy, just a few Roman candles and a few snakes, usually. But we always had plenty of sparklers and we lit up the neighborhood with their fiery brilliance. When the sparklers were gone, Dad added wood to the fire and we gathered around to sing, remember the funny things that happened that day or on other Kids' Day, and watch the stars pop out in the sky.
Kids' Day was over. It would be another year before it came again, another year before the pop flowed freely and the melon was plentiful.
It was our way of celebrating our nation's birth, and simple as it was those days remain in my memory as some of the best of my childhood. Maybe we should consider creating an official Kids' Day in the US. But nowadays, would those simple pleasures mean anything? Maybe it's best to leave it to memory and be grateful that my parents with their limited resources found a way to make this day something that would live on as a happy memory for their children, even 50 years later.