After moving to Long Island the 4th of July calmed down quite a bit. A few firecrackers went off here and there on the 4th and one or two days preceding it. The flashy firework displays were limited to those different townships who sponsored them. They were lit from a barge and shot up over the water at the great South Bay. You would piled the kids into the car and take a short ride into town. Once there the first available parking space was about half a mile from the shore front, where you needed to be to get a good view. Having parked you would join the steady stream of walkers down to the shore front, carrying chairs, drinks and of course snacks. All this for about a twenty-minute display. Pretty, but to say the least, mild compared to what we were use to in Brooklyn.
Sometime around 1980 my cousin Cathye, (I always called her Catherine) who was very family oriented, would organize a get together at her house to celebrate the 4th of July. Every one was invited from the eldest member, my mother, to the youngest baby, my cousin Camille’s daughter, Cassie. Besides family, came old friends from Brooklyn, making quite a crowd. Cathye’s husband Sandy, a gravely voiced, gruff, supposedly anti social giant of a man would go along with the entire three-ring circus.
Cathye and Sandy couldn’t have been more opposite in looks and temperament had they entered a contest intentionally seeking polar opposites. She was fair complected, about five foot three, with blonde hair and blue eyes. Cathye was plagued with a weight issue all her life, making her fairly round. Yes, I will say it, she was quite chubby. She buzzed around her house in and out of the patio doors with platters of food and gallons of drink. The guests contributed appetizers, sides, and desserts, sometimes made to her specifications.
Sandy stood around six feet six inches. He was swarthy, dark hair and eyes. In his younger days he had pumped a lot of iron and still made an imposing figure. The original grouch. But no matter what he said about hating all the family invading his house, crowding the patio, making his pool cloudy, he would permit no one else to barbecue at his shiny red grill. (He put a fresh coat of paint on it every year.) He would grumble and complain from the moment we arrived. No one paid a bit of attention to it. Sandy loved the company, the family, and the slew of kids we brought with us. He happily tolerated the greeting kisses and general loud buzz of the day.
Cathye and Sandy’s relationship was unwittingly patterned after an old sit com – All in the Family – complete with one child, a girl named, Sabrina. The sun rose and set on that girl. In fact, sometimes when you were visiting it was like going to see The Cathye and Sandy Show. Their interaction, at times, was hysterical. Often their foil was Sandy’s lifelong friend, Paul. My kids always called him Uncle Paul. He was a fixture at their house and included and expected at all family functions.
Each year the piece de resistance was what kind of fireworks, Sandy and Paul were cooking up in the garage. As the evening drew upon us the children almost vibrated with expectation that the two men intentionally fueled all day. They would banter back and forth in exaggerated whispers so that the young boys could overhear (Our son Jimmy, Cousin Tommy’s son, Anthony in particular). If the boys tried to look into the garage they were shooed away. Sandy even had a competition going with his backyard neighbor, Elmo, which of them had the best fireworks. I don’t think Elmo ever knew he was in a competition, or that he name was really Elmo.
One year Sandy and Paul were in an over the top fevered pitch about the rocket they were building. They talked about what alloy the cylinder was made from. How they packed it with gun powder to give it lift. What they had used for propelling it upward. Even the other adults were getting concerned. Had they gone too far this year.
When the time came the family all gathered on the deck. Paul and Sandy carried this five foot rocket out from the garage and sat it on the platform. Now Cathye began yelling – are you guys crazy somebody is going to get hurt. They ignored her. What else was new? Sandy again mumbling how he would teach Elmo. This year he was going to win for sure. Paul urged him on. Anthony and Jimmy could barely be restrained. They wanted to light the rocket. I began ushering the younger kids into the house, thinking this was really getting a little scary and I wanted the children out of harm’s way.
Then they did it. The two of them together lit the three-foot fuse leading up to their master piece. Sandy and Paul ran back to the protection of the house. I think everyone’s heart stopped. And then…. And then….. NOTHING. The fuse burned slowly to the cylinder, which was actually nothing more substantial than cardboard. The five foot rocket shook momentarily then tipped over and burned up. A big pile of Ash.
No one laughed harder than Sandy and Paul.