It was getting closer and the excitement was building. In my preteen years of the 1950s, every Fourth of July meant a much-anticipated annual visit from my aunt, uncle and cousin from Connecticut.

This was a really big deal for a 10-year-old. My uncle always brought a good assortment of fireworks, which could be purchased in his state but not in Maine.

Weeks before, I had studied every word and picture in some colorful and exotic fireworks catalogs, because all kinds of firecrackers, sky rockets and Roman candles could be bought by mail. My father usually agreed to “send off” a small order.

Under close supervision by my father and uncle, the whole family went to the large riverside field usually planted for a crop of potatoes. I remember strict rules about where my brother and cousin and I could stand … well back from the row of rockets aimed skyward. It was daytime. We didn’t wait for darkness for the aerial display, and I now think that was for safety.

The fuses were lit only by my father and uncle. They allowed the youngsters to hold a few Roman candles, and to touch off a few firecrackers with the ember on a smoky “punk stick.”

Cap guns were another part of growing up in the 1950s, and not just on the Fourth of July. I think I had all the proper western paraphernalia … western-style shirts accented with fringe on the pockets, cowboy boots, holsters for my two cap pistols, and a good supply of “ammunition” … those rolls of red-paper with little dots of gunpowder.

Memories of many years ago are sometimes revived in totally unexpected ways. About eight years ago an overgrown maple tree in the yard of our Auburn farmhouse toppled across the driveway and road, taking down some power lines but sparing the house. Part of the massive trunk remained until chain saws brought that down, too.

Where big branches had spread from it, a large cavity was revealed. In this hollow I found a cast-aluminum cap gun that I recognized immediately. I don’t remember climbing that tree, or losing the toy gun, but there it was, unseen for more than 60 years.

Our family Fourth of July celebration featured a number of other traditions. Top among them was making hand-cranked ice cream. Similar ice cream tubs, whether electric or cranked, never matched that vanilla ice cream recipe my mother used.

A big part of the ice cream experience was going to the Newbury Street icehouse beside the Little Androscoggin’s confluence with the big river. We thrilled as hundred-pound blocks of ice thundered down the chutes. One would be picked for our use, and back at the farm it was split into smaller pieces that were placed in a burlap bag. Beating the bag with heavy tools reduced the block to chips just right for the ice cream tub.

We took turns on the crack. It seemed to take forever, and became more difficult for a youngster’s arms as the sweet mixture froze, but the adults eventually declared that we had ice cream.

Of course, watermelon was a holiday must, as was strawberry shortcake. Another food tradition on the Fourth of July was salmon with fresh garden peas. It was an honor for a farmer to produce early peas straight from the garden.

During this early-1950s time, my future wife, Judy, was growing up in the Splinterville neighborhood of Auburn’s Perkins Ridge. She remembers that her father, Cleba Spofford, would entertain with fireworks that he set off in the sandy field next to a small cemetery.

He owned and operated the White Line bus company, so the Fourth of July was a busy time for him. He organized and ran bus trips to popular family destinations, including Bailey Island, Old Orchard and Bear Pond Park in Turner.

Lewiston-Auburn’s Fourth of July in the early 1950s also included a big parade and evening fireworks at Walton School in New Auburn. There was always a semipro baseball game at Pettengill Park, and the 1952 holiday I recalled here featured an afternoon-night double-header between Auburn’s ASAs and the Augusta Millionaires. Auburn won both games and ASAs pitching ace Don Furth nearly had a no-hitter in the first game.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]

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