Then and now on the Fourth

How long since we’ve experienced a Fourth of July like this past one. Can you believe the weather! It’s been a few years since we have been so blessed. The only downside being that the holiday was in the middle of the week so most people had only the one day, and not a long weekend to enjoy it and the surrounding summer days.

Of course the beautiful weather lasted only as long as it took us to believe it might stay for awhile, then turned back to the regular Kenai July, but it was nice while it lasted. And we know we can depend on a replay a day or two at a time until school starts or snow flies, whichever comes first.

We spent the Fourth with old friends. A few years ago, we’d all have been out camping together as far away as we could get. We’d find space for the four-wheelers, the firepits, the motorhomes and tents as far away from other people as possible so we could be loud and rambunctious. Each year we’d find a new spot: Valdez Creek Mine off the Denali one year; Eureka another time; Peters Creek on the South Boundary of Denali Park a couple of times; anyplace we could gather in peace and not disturb other campers because we were a big group that grew every year. Toward the end of our get-togethers, we were three generations and growing.

It became harder to find a big enough spot that was also relatively isolated. Then some of us moved out of state, and the kids found other entertainment so eventually our celebrations started happening in back yards. We hosted here in Kenai a few times especially when the clam tides were close, and we went to Anchorage, and to Willow until finally everyone started staying home and talking about how it used to be. It was fun getting together with “the group” again this year although we were several members short and a few years older. We did a lot of eating and “remember when-ing.”

Until recent years when we’ve enjoyed the Kenai celebration, Independence Day has always been an off or on celebration because of life choices.

I remember Fourth of Julys putting up hay, the only saving grace being that I knew most of my friends were doing the same thing. Living in a farm community pretty well dictated one’s time, especially in the summer. It was a rare Fourth we got to play, and then only if it was raining or had been the few days before. Our celebrations were usually a picnic with family somewhere close, because we had to be home to milk the cows. I often thought my dad used those animals for his excuse to not venture further than grandma’s yard. He wasn’t much of a traveler or a reveler for that matter.

Later, we traded the hay field for the fish nets. Early on, commercial fishing in Cook Inlet began in mid-June so by July 4 we were settled in, and may or may not have a fish day. Seems like, given Kenai weather, every year it was really nice, we fished on the Fourth of July.

But there were the years when the kids were growing up we would go camping at some remote creek in northern Idaho because Hubby had a day or two off and the kids loved to go camping. Or we’d take a picnic and join friends at some park to just kick back and enjoy the day, maybe catching fireworks in the evening.

This year we watched the Mount Marathon race on TV. Each of us breathed a sigh of relief when Allie decided not to run but we cheered the racers anyway, not caring who won, just glad to see them have a spectacular day for it. The snow chute was everyone’s favorite and we marveled at how quick the descent was compared to the climb. And questioned whether any one of us would have done it in our earlier lives. (No one stood up and shouted “yes!”)

We ate late in the afternoon. Everyone brought a dish, and we cooked on the grill on the deck (in the sunshine). We ate well. My friend makes a mean poppy-seed cake — a Fourth of July tradition among our group, and we finished off with that. The only thing missing was a big bonfire and plans for Stone Soup the next day (look it up).

We ended the day by watching the Capitol Fourth celebration from Washington D.C. on TV. Jimmy Buffet, the Beach Boys, lots of patriotic music, and fireworks. No stuck four-wheelers, no mud-covered dogs or kids, no rain soaked campfire. The perfect end of a perfect day.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.

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