Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Fourth

In my Oklahoma boyhood, the Fourth of July meant a new cap gun.  And holster.  Gifts from my dad--gifts, I'm certain, that alarmed my mother, whose cowboy-wannabe sons would have have fresh hardware and software (caps) to fire around the house and neighborhood--not in the house, mind you.  Firing caps in the house brought out the Wyatt Earp in Mom, who would confiscate the offending firearm and tell the offender himself to sit on a chair for a while--a dire (Dyer?) punishment for me, who would rather have had a good brisk whipping and be out on the streets, guns blazing in the Enid air.

Some of our boyhood cap guns broke in half for reloading.  You grabbed the barrel, kept tight hold on the handle, pulled the barrel down ... it opened!  Inside was a wee chamber for the roll of caps, which you would hook onto a little thingy (surely there's a real name?), then thread the end of the roll up by the hammer.  Close the gun.  Fire away.

Other guns--see illustration--had a little door you just slid aside to load the roll of caps.

Not every charge would fire, though, and not every cap gun would advance the roll efficiently.  Some adjustments were necessary.  You sometimes had to pause, right in the middle of the O. K. Corral, and adjust the red roll of caps.

I see on Google Images that many cap guns now look like actual firearms.  But the ones of my boyhood were designed to only resemble, loosely, those weapons used by our heroes on the countless cowboy shows on television.  Wild Bill Hickok.  The Lone Ranger.  Roy Rogers.  Billy the Kid.  Hopalong Cassidy.  My best friends.

When we were living in Norman while my dad fulfilled the residency requirements for his doctorate at OU (I was about 4, my older brother about 7), a neighborhood kid named David Lampton pistol-whipped my brother, Richard (Dickie, then), who promptly abandoned firearms, eschewed violence altogether, and went on to become the classical music critic for the Boston Globe for many years.  So ... the lone prairie's loss is the BSO's gain.

When our son was born, we vowed there would be no guns in his life.  That didn't last long.  Soon, he was running around with a Fisher-Price fishing pole that he renamed his "killing thing."  I gave in.  Bought him a cap gun.  And then one day, in the checkout line at Sparkle Market, sitting in his little booster seat in the cart, he pointed his gun at the clerk and cried "Freeze, Turkey!"  That ended the cap guns ... for a while.

When I was a child, we didn't do much as a family on the Fourth.  The restrictions on fireworks were more lax in those days, so we had rockets and firecrackers and sparklers that we could fire off in the back yard.  Evil kids down the block had more serious ordnance--cherry bombs and the like, "things that could blow your  hand off," warned Dad, who was missing a finger from a boyhood wood-chopping misadventure.  We would often have a cookout, or go to the park.

I'm 3rd from the left ...
In the summer of 1956--I was not quite 12--we moved to Hiram, Ohio, which had a real old-fashioned small-town Fourth of July celebration that I loved.  In 1957 and 1958 I played in the Portage County Tennis Tournament (the finals were in Hiram on the Fourth; I lost and cried in 1957; I won in 1958 and have a news article and ribbon to prove it--though what the ribbon does not communicate is that I had to win only two matches in my age bracket, and not one of us could play worth a damn).  Early in the afternoon there was a Hot Stove League baseball game, and among the greatest thrills of my life--maybe the greatest--was hitting a homer in 1958, an event that was broadcast (via loudspeakers) in "downtown" Hiram.  Up at the school diamond, as I was sprinting around the bases (we had no fences), I could hear the announcer describing my progress, his words echoing off the walls of the Hiram School (R.I.P.).  I was living out a fantasy I'd entertained since I first began playing the game.

In the local newspaper there was a picture that year of kids riding the firetruck. I'm on it, visible at the far left in the white T-shirt, the "uniform" that Hiram could afford for its baseball players (we did have team caps, however).

Later in the day, a small parade, an ice-cream social near the firehouse, rides on the firetruck, a picnic.  Then a free movie up at the college auditorium.  In 1958, it was The Great American Pastime, a baseball-and-romantic-comedy film with Tom Ewell, Anne Francis, and Ann Miller, written by Nathaniel Benchley; I recently acquired and watched a copy.  Moderately funny. (Link: Great American Pastime)  Then fireworks down at the college football field, a show that always ended with a flaming American flag, whose stars, stripes, blue field would gradually burn out.  And then the Fourth was over ...

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