Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Independence and All That

July 4

Fairhope was always pretty famous for its fireworks display on the 4th of July. It enjoys an ideal location for it -- the heart of the town is a long pier, which used to be the center of summer activity, with steamers plying the bay, filled with daytrippers and people moving their families to their summer homes. There was a huge bath house, the Fairhope Casino (no gambling, of course), with changing rooms, showers, and a big dance floor.

The fireworks display would emanate from the end of the pier, and people could see them from the beach, the bluff, and their own piers if they were lucky enough to have them. The town celebration of Independence Day was the high point of the year. Some things have changed in Fairhope, as you have noted if you read this blog regularly, but there is still a display of fireworks on the 4th. The boats were eliminated when the causeway was completed in 1929 and the casino was condemned and demolished in the early 1950's. But the atmosphere of the 4th will always rely on a fireworks display.

This part of the state has always been vacationland. If you didn't live in Fairhope you drove through it on your way to the gulf beaches, and on your way home you'd bring the family to see the fireworks. My father used to have a barbecue pit, and there'd be some family members and friends from Mobile over every year on the 4th for food and fun with the Timbes kids -- and then we'd pile into cars and drive into town to await the fireworks. Daddy made a "thing" about how the display would always be late in starting, but that milling around in the crowd, seeing people you knew, anticipating, was part of the party. There was something about those old displays that seems to be fading now, if not completely gone -- the sound of the crowd. Each skyrocket would take a little time to assemble, apparently, and there would be a longish pause between shots. After each burst a sound would automatically come from the crowd, a gasp, followed by a sigh of appreciation. It was an intrinsic part of the event.

I've experienced the 4th in many places, in many ways. I was in New York City with the Tall Ships display in 1976; with my sister and friends we viewed it from a rooftop at Westbeth. I lived in Geneva, which has as big a celebration of the 4th of July as anywhere in Europe (and maybe the world), and for six years I watched hang gliders jump off the Salève, ate hot dogs made of Swiss sausage stuffed into rolls pierced on the spot with a special appliance just for the purpose, and met vacationing backpackers from the States who had come to the event because they read about it in Let's Go Europe. All kinds of unorthodox things happened at that fireworks display.

Whenever the day rolls around, I think of my country and what has become of it. I love to acknowledge what it was, and what it was meant to be, and I am proud to have that as a part of my own history. I even think of old Fairhope, really a young town, built as our country was, on an ideal. Never mind that both are pretty much a shambles now, overrun by the same marauders: Personal greed and immorality of the heart. I cannot dwell on the negative today, because it's a celebration of what we should be; but in order to make things better I must be able to see what I know they can be and remember what they have been.

So I think I'll go back to John Adams, who predicted the future 4ths of July in a rather nice letter to his wife: "I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival," he wrote, "It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..."

It is that and more, Mr. Adams. And in Fairhope, there will be a fireworks display tonight.


Benedict S. said...

The local fireworks display here in Madison County takes place down the road a piece from our spot on the Old Blue Ridge Turnpike, at what's called the Graves Mountain Lodge. (No graves there; the folks that own the lodge are Graveses.) Every year we invite our friends to come and watch the fireworks with us, and tonite there'll be about 40 folks here, first seeing, then hearing the fireworks. (The sounds travel here in about 2 1/2 seconds). Then we all sit around talking politics, baseball, and recipes until midnight.

I wonder . . . what is the appeal of fireworks? It seems that everywhere in the world where rockets and firecrackers are available, they're trotted out and demonstrated on every special occasion. There must be something about loud noises and colorful explosions that appeals at the genetic level.

Of course, we don't need to answer that question in order to enjoy the show. Just bring a chair, a potluck dish, and a wagging tongue. A good time will be had by all.

Anonymous said...

The Fairhope Casino was NOT torn down in the early 50s. I wasn't born until 1953 and it was still there during my childhood. I bowled in the casino's 4-lane bowling alley (with pin boys) and changed into a swimsuit in the casino's dressing rooms. The old wooden Fairhope "Big" Pier was torn down to make way for the new concrete pier, which opened in 1968. I believe the casino was leveled about the same time.

Mary Lois said...

My mistake--I misremembered. My family moved to the Fairhope area in 1949 and I remember my parents going to dances there the first few years. I don't remember the bowling alley at all, and it was my memory that the casino was condemned a few years into our life in Fairhope. It may have been used until it was torn down, and that may have been the LATE rather than early 50s, or it may have been as late as 1960. This should be pretty easily checked, city records or the Fairhope Museum. In my case I was relying on memory, always an iffy source.

Anonymous said...

Mary, please accept my apology if I seemed terse. My comment was not intended as an indictment, just an observation. In my experience, memories fade with time and often merge with other memories to create something that didn't exist at all. I have sometimes been surprised to find out my memory has played tricks on me and rearranged facts and even images. It happens.

Mary Lois said...

Apology accepted! Mostly I was stunned to see a comment on a post I put up in 2006 and haven't thought about since. Good to see it's still getting attention.