June Roses -- Fourth of July Memories
President Monson is fond of quoting lines from great poets. One line he frequently quotes that has come to mean a great deal to me as I have grown older is, "God gave us memories, that we might have June roses in the December of our lives." [James M. Barrie. ]
Inasmuch as the 4th of July is almost upon us once again, let me share a memory -- a June Rose in the "November", hopefully, of my life a long-ago time in a faraway place. I apologize to those of you who have previously read this same memory I shared with some of you a number of years ago..
This June Rose is of a typical 4th of July celebration in Ely, Nevada, White Pine County, circa 1948. Of course I cannot remember one specific 4th of July after all these years, so what you are getting is a composite or the essence of the memories of many fourths of July from my boyhood. I would have been ten years old in 1948 and the following is what would have constituted the 4th of July for me at that time.
We looked forward to the 4th of July almost as much as we did to Christmas. White Pine County was dominated economically by Kennecott Copper Corp.. The mine was in Ruth, the smelter was in McGill, and the big city, Ely, was sandwiched in between the two. Ely had a population of about 7000, but largely existed and prospered because of the money generated from those who worked for Kennecott. I mention this only because Kennecott subsidized the July 4th celebration, as well as Labor Day. The money they put into it made of it a special day.
Prior to July 4th, we always were able to get all the firecrackers we wanted. I can't remember any other kinds of fireworks around the house, but as the sun came up on the 4th of July we would be out in front of the house with our friends shooting off firecrackers. We would put them under tin cans, which we would blow up into the sky and other dumb things I'm sure. Anyway, we thought it was fun and a great way to begin the day. About eight or nine in the morning, I would get dressed up in my band uniform and go to the grade school to board the bus, along with the other band members, to drive down to Ely - five miles away. Ruth, Ely, and McGill grade school bands, along with the White Pine County High School Marching Bobcat Band, the pride of the County, would march in the big parade down Aultman street, the main drag through downtown Ely. The bands were the main attraction but Kennecott would decorate some of the big earth moving equipment for the parade; the American Legion men, and various Scout troops, and a few cowboys and Indians on horseback made up the rest of the parade. There must have been some floats as well, but I can't remember them. The bands would assemble on the football field behind the City Hall and Fire Station, and at the appointed hour the much anticipated parade and celebration would begin.
The main gathering point along the parade route on Aultman street was the corner of the Bank Club, the Hotel Nevada, the Silver Dollar Saloon, and the Family Liquor Store. There we would play our best numbers to the accompaniment of firecrackers being set off by little kids scurrying through the legs and out of the grasp of parents and other adults. My mom and dad would be there to pick me up at the conclusion of the parade and then the real fun began.
At a park directly across from the high school, they would be giving out free ice cream and having nickel scrambles for kids 12 and under. They would get us in a big group and throw fistfulls of nickels into the air and the aggressive kids would come away with pockets full of nickels. I admit to being rather timid and never did prosper on the nickel scrambles. This would take us up to lunchtime.
Mom always outdid herself to make sure we had plenty of fried chicken, potato and macaroni salad, homemade rolls, and homemade cherry pie. I'm sure there were other things that comprised the lunch, but I only remember those things that I loved the most. After lying in the shade for a while, almost everybody in the County it seemed would gather at the football field and park for the remainder of the afternoon and evening. There would be races for every age group in which the winners would be awarded $5. The highlight for me however, was the men's 100 yard dash - the prize being $50. Every year that I can remember, my dad entered the race. He was fast, but there was always one man in the County that could beat him. He was an unlikely looking runner and you would never have bet on him based on his appearance. He had a big barrel chest and stomach, but he could flat-out move. I would stand at the finish line and he and my dad would be out in front of everyone else by a pretty good distance, but as they crossed the finish line dad was always two or three steps behind. Through all the years he never saw that $50. Sad to say his nemesis in the race drowned in Cummings Lake, but by then dad was too old to run.
Later in the afternoon there would be professional boxing and wrestling matches in the middle of the football field. I don't know where Kennecott imported these gladiators from, but before the days of TV in our town, this was truly high adventure. Looking back on it now, what professional boxer or wrestler would come to Ely, Nevada on the 4th of July? They must have paid them very well, is all I can figure out. Anyway, one of the wrestlers was the villain, and being naive and unsophisticated as we were, we all hated him and cheered for the hero, who always wore white trunks and had blond hair. We saw some blood during the boxing matches which seemed to whip some of the old miners into a frenzy of excitement. It would be hot sitting there in the sun but nobody was about to leave. After the fights, the ring would turn into a stage with a complete vaudeville show. There would be magicians, hypnotists, and a variety of singers and dancers. Never to be forgotten is the Fourth of July that my youngest brother, Kim, was actually hypnotized by the visiting hypnotist and was turned into a zombie for a while. Thankfully, the hypnotist was able to eventually break the spell. The entertainment would last until almost dark and then much of the County's population would go to the County Fairgrounds for the fireworks display.
I can remember how happy and content I felt riding home in the back of our 1936 Studebaker after a long day, exhausted, but knowing that the 4th of July had been a great and special event.
Please forgive the ruminations of an old guy who is getting older, but it is wonderful to have good memories of a time gone by never to return. What price can you put on happy memories? They truly are June Roses, and they are priceless.