Independence Day then and now
As we prepare to celebrate our nation's Independence Day, we asked residents to share memories of celebrating this traditional summer holiday. Mary Ellen Bailey obliged with two tales of tense moments with fireworks and a look back at a simpler time.
When Mary Ellen's children were very young, her husband took a job in El Paso, Texas. She and the children stayed behind in Missouri with Mary Ellen's father while they waited for their house to be built.
Mary Ellen's brothers had recently returned from serving in World War II, and not surprisingly, they were not fond of fireworks. The kids wanted to do some, but their grandfather was recovering from surgery, so he couldn't help. Their uncle, one of the veterans, graciously agreed to help after dinner.
"Believe it or not, in Missouri then you could have any (kind of fireworks)," Mary Ellen said. "We had a cool front come through, so we put my father in a lawn chair with a quilt. My brother was shooting off fireworks, and he had some kind of whirligig thing that was supposed to go in a straight line. But it went every which way! It went over my father's head, and he was trying to get out of the quilt he was wrapped in, and the rest of us went running in every direction trying to get out of the way."
When Mary Ellen herself was young, she remembered how her grandfather loved to light firecrackers. But as he grew older, his hands became less steady. His favorite thing was to take a punk and light one firecracker at a time. "And he would throw it, and then he would die laughing," Mary Ellen said. "We held our breath every time and worried he would hold it too long and blow his finger off!"
In spite of those close calls, Mary Ellen has other fond Fourth memories. When her family lived in Kirkwood they had friends come over to have dinner together, and then they took lawn chairs to the park a few blocks away for a professional fireworks show. "We thought, boy, was this something. It was something very special."
Resident Maxine Shults shared this recollection of a favorite holiday from the 1970s:
“The best Fourth of July is when me and my mother spent the day together grilling steaks, talking and later watching fireworks. I am not sure where everyone else was at the time, but I really enjoyed spending time with my mother. She spent the day and the night with me, and we enjoyed being by ourselves and doing what we pleased.”
In a small town like Rolla, those neighborhood celebrations are still a favorite, even though the city has a Fourth of July celebration that lasts several days. Now the whole town can come together for fireworks, carnival rides and food, and enjoy our national holiday as a community.
And, we hope, safely!