Hot damn. The weathermen meteorologists are calling for 90 and humid tomorrow. I can hear the corn growing, and the exposed flesh sizzling at the beach already. Classic 4th of July weather. It is a little known fact that between the years 1970 and 1986, it was over 90 degrees, and humid every 4th of July in Batavia, N.Y. Look it up!
Well, it seemed like it was anyway. Back in the days before central air conditioning was installed at 20 Prospect, (which is to say the entire time I lived there) we used to suffer like dogs through these sweltering days and nights. I would wake by 8 am in the back bedroom and already the temperature would be in the 80’s. The sun would be shining through the leaves of the maple tree, and flickering through the blades of the fan in the window. How we never lost a finger in the exposed blades of that old Westinghouse fan I have no idea.
While some folks headed to the beach, or the lake, we always seemed to spend the 4th at home. It wasn’t that Dad didn’t enjoy the water. In fact, he loved swimming more than any of us. It’s just that his hatred for crowds and traffic far outweighed his love of the water. So while half of Western New York was enjoying the breezes off of Ontario, or Erie, or dipping their toes in a Finger Lake, we’d be sitting on the Front Porch, stuck to the floral print vinyl cushions of the glider, drinking powdered lemonade, and sweating it out. With the canopy of maples overhead, and the awnings lowered, the front porch was the coolest spot to be in the summer time. What breeze there was always blew from the front of the house, which made my back bedroom, with one old wooden framed window propped open for the fan, the hottest damn place in the house.
One thing that has not changed in the 30 years since that time is the plethora of American flags flying from the front porches of Batavia. Patriotism may wax and wane through the generations, but the denizens of Batavia always, ALWAYS, fly the flag proudly. The sight of all those stars and stripes, up and down the length of Prospect Avenue, swaying in the afternoon breeze can still be seen today.
When afternoon rolled around, we’d walk around the block to Centennial Park for the annual picnic in the park. Centennial was (and is) a park with nothing but grass, trees and a hill. Despite the plans at various times to add a bandstand, or picnic area, the neighborhood has always resisted “improvements”. So too this day the park remains the greenest, shadiest, loveliest place in town. In winter it was our sledding hill, in summer it was our ballpark, and it was a place to walk the dog the whole year around.
As scenes of Americana go, the annual picnic in the park is about as Norman Rockwell-esque as you can get. The Batavia Concert Band sets up a stage, people bring lawn chairs, there are clowns and face painting for the kids, and the ever present smell of roasting meat fills the air. It is the one and only time during the year that the sleepy, pastoral park is actually a hub of activity. People would come and go as the sun crept through the sky, until afternoon began to give way to evening. By then we’d be back home at 20 Prospect, chasing the shade around to the back yard, grilling hot dogs on the gas grill. Hot dogs were the only food that we ever ate from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Sahlen’s natural casing hot dog links, slathered with sweet relish and Weber’s Mustard was our dietary staple for the entire summer. Why I didn’t have cholesterol induced heart disease by age 12 I have no idea.
After dinner the entire populace of Batavia would make their way to McArthur Park. Once there they would either take a place on the hillside by the swimming pool, set up blankets on the bleachers of the little league field, or pay the $2.50 to get into the Trojans Clippers Muckdogs game, and spend the evening watching the sun sink into a blood red pool in the western sky, waiting for the coming fireworks. There were always fireworks. By the time the game ended it would be dark, and the June bugs and moths would be throwing themselves against the light standards in futile attempts at immolation. The lights would go out, and a cheer would go up from the crowd. Then the hollow “phoom” of a mortar launching a shell, followed by a “fzzzztt” as it ascended into the night sky, and exploded in a crackle of light.
The fireworks would continue for what seemed like an eternity, and still end too soon in a final burst of light and thunder. As the last embers disappeared on their way back down to earth, we would applaud, then fold up our blankets and begin the walk home. We always walked to the fireworks. Did I mention that Dad hated traffic?
Night would end the way the day began, stuck to the sheets, sweating in the back bedroom, dying for whatever little breeze the old Westinghouse fan could muster. Another summer night in small town America, a night that will be repeated again, and again, passed down through the generations, like an old family recipe.
Happy Birthday America.