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25C coming into work today. That’s borderline. Clear and sunny, I expect to wake up to 30C tomorrow. That means… air conditioning for the fourth of July.

A couple of weeks ago, Andy and I went to Warwick, Rhode Island, to visit the New England Institute of Technology, which Andy hopes to attend this autumn. Google Maps suggested we go to Rhode Island by first going up to Massachusetts and coming down again on Route 146, which stretches from Massachusetts to Rhode Island.

Route 146 was the highway Dad took to get to work when he worked at Worcester Valve. It threads through most of the places we used to go when I was a kid. Purgatory Chasm, that place of caves and climbing rocks where Worcester Valve used to hold summer picnics occasionally. Pleasant Valley Country Club — I remember Mom talking about that. Uxbridge, of course, and Upton.

Upton had a fantastic fireworks display one year, it was hot and crowded and pretty amazing. But the 4th celebration I remember best was on the grounds of Northbridge High School, just outside of Linwood on the way to Whitinsville. Northbridge? Where the HECK was that? Why not Whitinsville High School? I found out MUCH later that Whitinsville, Linwood and a bunch of other towns were part of the megalithic city of Northbridge. So that mystery was solved at last. Couldn’t see the forest for the trees, couldn’t see the city for the towns.

Ya know, given that Linwood was part of Northbridge, why did I always go to Uxbridge schools? Everyone in Linwood did.

Man, it’s WEIRD talking about the places I grew up. After all these years, the names seem strange, quaint and rustic.

Anyway, I don’t remember if that 4th at the high school was for the bicentennial or not. I seem to remember it was still a couple of years in the future — we kids, like the entire nation, were counting down to America’s 200th birthday. So call it 1974, I would have been 12, on the edge of 13. There was a small carnival set up there, and Mom and some of her friends were going to take us kids down early, with a cooler full of sandwhiches and soda, a cribbage board and a couple of decks of cards, and just spend the day on the lawn. Mom’s friends were all Aunts; all of Mom and Dad’s friends were Aunts and Uncles, so it would certainly have been such folks as Aunty Adriane, Aunt Jeanette, and Aunt Francis, Frenchies all. Calling non-relatives aunts, uncles, grammy and so on is probably one of those endearing New England-isms that seem odd looking back.

Mom drove us down and parked alongside the school on Linwood Ave, but it really wasn’t that far. Up the street, past the post office, up the curvy road and dash across the road (or follow the tracks beneath it, if you were daring), around the hill where we used to play King of the Hill, past The Depot, that bar Dad used to go to, past the old mill we used to sneak around or just race bikes, and then straight as an arrow to the high school which most of the other kids in church attended. (Church was in Whitinsville. Whitinsville kids went to Northbridge High.) When Mom decided to spend the day at the school, that pretty much made the entire north side of Linwood our back yard. So we kids — Vallerie, me, the ferocious-looking Black Dog, and our friends — drifted between our house and the high school all day, while Mom and her friends sat down, played Whist and Cribbage, smoked, drank Tab and gossiped.

The carnival had a Ferris wheel, that spinny Round-Up ride, and that twirly octopus-like ride. I was fine with the Ferris wheel, but any spinny/twirly ride would leave me heaving out my guts on the lawn, so I’d usually try one, and that would be my limit. It didn’t matter, anyway. There was far too much fun to be had with the fortune machines and the (probably rigged) test of skill games, and the cotton candy and candy apple shops.

Toward dusk, the men would begin setting up the fireworks show. It was always men, and through the clarity of beer and cigarettes, would spend a few hours setting up the poles and posts just so, measuring things, putting up frames with weird wires on them I just knew would be spectacular when night fell. As it darkened, all you could see would be their bobbing flashlights in the distance.

Even though it seems odd that Dad would be working, he didn’t show until the afternoon. I think he WAS working, we may have had the fireworks display on July 3, it wasn’t unusual to shift events like Independence Day and Hallowe’en to fit everyone’s schedule. And knowing Dad, even if he wasn’t required to go to work, he might have stopped in in the morning to finish something up.

They always started off the fireworks with a few of those low BOOM!s that grab your attention, told you to find a spot and get ready.  A few minor bursts, a few more booms… and like always, we kids would pretend the BOOMS! were guns, and we’d fall on the ground after each one, pretending we’d just been blown to shreds by a badly aimed shell. Then we’d stand up and wait for the next one, until the fireworks stepped up to the next stage, and were so glorious that doing comedy dying was forgotten.

We wanted it to go on forever. We wanted the sparks that floated down gently from the surprisingly low starbursts to set pastel-colored fires in the grass. We wanted to lose ourselves in fire and light. And then that wire framework would come to life, swirling and spinning, and then all at once exploding into red white and blue, blazing there by the stands, the American flag, writ in sparks and fire. When the flag burned out, we knew the night was over. Quieted by the display, we all packed up our blankets, cards, drinks and stuff and headed home. I’d had my bike, so I sped home and made it there before anyone else. Faster than a car, I was.

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