Oh what a night it was! -- 07/07/09

The first time I was ever at a fireworks display was on the 4th of July in 1946.

I had just turned three years old at the end of April. My mother and father and I went to Dietz Stadium, the municipal stadium in Kingston, New York, my hometown. There was a baseball game -- which was also a first for me, to see a baseball game. My father had probably listened to baseball games on the radio (although I do not recall him as being especially interested in professional baseball) but it would not have been something that meant anything to me.

I had always assumed that this was whatever minor league team called Kingston home during that era, but I've hunted around the Internet, trying to see if I could find out what team might have been playing its home games in Kingston in 1946 but without luck. I can find lower level professional minor league teams before the war and I can find a minor league team there in 1947, but nothing for 1946. I guess it must have been a semi-professional or even an amateur team. I think my father tried to explain a little bit about the game to me, but it was just some guys in funny clothes standing around and throwing balls and swinging bats and sometimes running and sometimes the crowd would stand up and cheer, none of which made a lot of sense to me... But, it was interesting, nevertheless, because I had never gone anyplace like this with my parents and I was looking all around, trying to take it all in, the lights, the field, the grandstand, the huge crowd of people -- the stadium can seat, I believe, 1500 people and I think it was full, certainly more people than I had ever seen at once. (We would go for walks in the woods sometimes on weekends and I'd gone fishing with my father and with my mother and father, but never like this, going out at night and taking a bus ride to the far side of town.)

How odd to think now that my father would have been 39 at the time -- his 40th birthday would come that November. And my mother, who had just reached 37 back in February, was quite pregnant with my younger brother, Charlie, who would arrive at the end of August. (My eldest child is a year older now than my father was then, as is Charlie's daughter.)

Another first: this was the first time I had ever been to a men's room. It was a big room (or, at least, so it seemed to me), a concrete cave of a room underneath the grandstands with stalls just like I had seen in the women's bathroom at the Montgomery Wards department store ("Monkey Wards" people called it) but it also had a long trench for a urinal along the back wall... something that was rather startling to encounter for the first time...

And then, after the baseball game was over, came the real attraction: a fireworks display, one with both ground displays -- spinning wheels that shot off multicolored sparks, etc. -- and rockets that shot up into the night sky and exploded with loud bangs and bursts of sparkling color.

It was the most fantastic sight I had ever beheld and I have remained a devoted fan of fireworks to this day.

I remember my father's advice to keep my mouth open so that the explosive sounds didn't bother my ears as much, something he had apparently learned in the war, but none of it bothered me, I loved the explosions and the flashes and the color and the excitement. There was a big kid -- much older than me, probably five or even six years old -- who was crying with fear and I was puzzled about that. Why would he be crying about something so wonderful and beautiful?

After the fireworks were over we took a city bus home... but it was late at night and this last bus run did not go all the way to our neighborhood so we took it as far as we could and then got off a the last stop before it turned off to go in a different direction so we could walk home.

This was so exciting -- a baseball game, fireworks, traveling about late at night, and now getting off the bus "miles and miles" from home (actually not too much more than half a mile, but it seemed like a huge distance to my three-year-old legs). The three of us walked for a long block or so and then my father picked me up and sat me on his shoulders and carried me the rest of the way home. The sky overhead was filled with uncountable stars and the heat of the day had turned to night time coolness and the very air seemed to be filled with magic and mystery and excitement and here I was experiencing that magical mystery of midnight while still being safe and protected with my parents.

A memorable night.

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