July Fourth
Off the Wall, July 4
, 2013

I can’t help but think that each of us can, more than likely, think of something that happened somewhere on one of the many July Fourth days celebrated in the past.

If my memory serves me right, I can still remember certain events that take me back over 50 years ago. That indicates that not all my gray matter is turning white.

Part of the tradition was for my parents to pack us all in our car and head over to a grade school located on top of a hill just before descending down leading to the entrance of South Park in the South Hills. I believe my mother stayed in the car. My dad led my brother, sister and I to a line where we all stood to receive little brown bags that were handed out to each kid. Don’t ask how much he paid for them, but I can’t help but feel they were less than $5 each.

Anyway, inside were all kinds of Fourth related goodies, presumably packed by some knowledgeable parents who knew just what kids were looking for this time of year and would treasure most. What stands out in my mind is a roll of red, white and blue crate paper. We would line the spokes of our bicycles, starting at the axle and making the way to the rim of the wheel. When riding down the street, we would be showing off our country’s colors on all sizes of vehicles from my sister’s smallest to mine, the largest.

It’s a shame, but I don’t see much of that anymore like we did it. Every youth had who owned a bike made sure our true colors stood out. It wasn’t right not to decorate our bikes in addition to other possessions as well.

When we moved from there to Oakmont, I was older, of course. I don’t remember owning a bike, even though I’m sure I must have had one. Bicycles for youth are as American as mom’s apple pie, if you get the gist to that remark.

When July 4th rolled around, we were certain of one happening. Very close friends of the family would always come from Pittsburgh to visit and we would spend the day and evening together. Paul Koch, a famous organist for St. Paul’s Catholic Cathedral in Oakland, would bring his wife and children. I have to say even though I left the Oakmont scene in 1962 following my high school graduation, I still look back at those times together fondly remembering the good times we all had together.

Anyway, when dusk descended upon the day, we would travel to the other side of Plum where we could overlook the Allegheny River. There, one of the communities had wonderful fireworks and we would “uh…and awe” at the beautiful colors and the many designs that lit the skies. In a sense, we were atop a mountain, looking down into the valley, having each projectile shot above the river, almost as though they were meant to entertain us and only us.

Of course, there was also a bittersweet facet to this memory. One of the members in our party unknowingly sat in some poison ivy. The next several days would tell a very grim flashback of what could have been totally a wonderful time. This individual broke out with such hives and swelling that it changed her whole appearance. It took weeks for her to return to normal. I believe there was a lesson to be learned here – always take a blanket on which to sit and make sure it covers the ground.

Living in Ohio wasn’t long. Neither was its Fourth celebration. So, I’ll talk about my hometown, the one I’ve lived in going on 40 years now.

When one discusses July Fourth around here, it’s no simple one day and evening’s celebration. There is so much “power-packed hoopla” that it compares to none I’ve ever experienced elsewhere. The one thing I have learned is that people will come from all over to take part in the activities leading to the big day, join with other family residents and all watch the city’s fireworks together from one advantage point or another.

Yearly it got to be a thing that I let our children watch the proceedings from on top of our house roof, since it has 16-square feet of flatness. They have now brought back their friends to watch the goings-on above the attic space at 1544 Ligonier St., Latrobe.

Each of us has a story to tell about our memories, I’m sure. Some of us are more blessed to tell them, that’s all. Yes, I’m proud to be a Latrobean, but more so, American.

I am so thankful that God enabled me to live in this country. But I could never end this column without also stating how indebted I feel toward our soldiers who died for us. Through their diligence we live in a free country. May our democratic rights be protected.

- Paul J. Volkmann
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