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FIREWORKS ON THE FOURTH
THUMP! THUD! WHACK! The two boys traded savage blows. Pounding, punching, poking, they fought their way from one side of the lawn to the other. A jab here, a sock there. A belt to the right, a clout to the left. First one was on top, then the other.
Finally, the smaller boy found himself spread-eagle on the ground, his scrawny arms pinned down, his slight frame wriggling furiously as he tried to free himself.
“Give up, Jack?”
“Don’t be silly,” Jack gasped. “Of course I won’t give up. Not if you clobber me all day.”
“Don’t you know when you’re licked?”
“Who says I’m licked?” Jack’s nose was bloody, one eye swollen shut, his face streaked with dirt. “I’m not licked. I’m resting.”
The three little girls on the sidelines were watching the scuffle with mixed feelings. Kick was excited and even four-year-old Eunice was watching the battle, but their oldest sister, Rosemary, didn’t like to see anyone get hurt. In spite of the noise of combat, baby Patricia was still sleeping soundly in her carriage.
“Get up, Jack,” Kick urged her brother. “Don’t let Joe beat you again! Smash him!”
“Smash him!” Eunice echoed.
“Smash him!” Joe Jr. repeated in disgust. “Who do you silly girls think he is? Jack Dempsey? Just because his name is Jack doesn’t mean he can fight like the heavyweight champ. Remember this Jack is named Kennedy!”’
“Better let him up, Joe,” Rosemary warned. “Here comes Mother. You know how she feels about you boys scrapping.”
The boys were still sprawled out on the grass as Mrs. Kennedy rounded the corner.
“Boys!” She stared in dismay. “Fighting again! And in your best clothes. You were all dressed up to go into the city with your grandfather and now look at you!”
The boys’ white shirts were all grass stained. She knew their knickers would never come clean. Dirt and grime covered their faces and their hands were filthy.
Mrs. Kennedy shook her head. “I’m afraid there’ll be no Fourth of July celebration for either one of you. No parade, no ball game, no fireworks—”
“Mother,” Jack tried to explain. “Joe really didn’t mean any harm. I dared him and he took the dare, that’s all.”
“That’s all, Mother.” Joe put a friendly arm around his brother’s shoulders. “We won’t get in another fight. We promise.”
“Not for another five minutes, I presume.” Her voice was stern but there was a slight twinkle in her eye. “I’ll give you boys one more chance to behave. Clean up in a hurry. Your grandfather is due here now. And remember, boys, if there is any more quarreling, you’ll both see fireworks, but,” she added in a warning tone, “they won’t be the kind that celebrates the Fourth of July!”
By midmorning, the boys were feeding the pigeons on Boston Common and waiting with their grandfather for the parade to start. On the gravel paths through the Public Gardens, the nursemaids wheeled their young charges in prams. Small boys tore by on their three-wheelers. Quaint elderly ladies, unmistakably from Beacon Hill, primly took their daily walk along the edges of the pond.
The Swan Boats looked cool and inviting as they sailed quietly along on the willow-fringed lagoon.
“Could we have a ride?” Jack asked.
“Sissy stuff,” Joe Jr. said. “For girls.”
“If the Swan Boats are for girls, how come all those other boys are taking rides?” Jack asked. “They’re bigger than you, Joe!”
“Swan Boat rides are for everybody—the young, the old, and the in-between.” Grandpa Fitzgerald beamed with remembered joys. “I was just a little tyke when my mother first took me for a ride on the Swan Boats. And it seems only yesterday that your mother was a tiny girl riding along in these very same boats. They have been a part of Boston for a good many years.”
“How do they work?” Joe asked curiously. “Don’t see any oars.”
“There aren’t any oars, Joe.”
“There aren’t any sails, either,” Jack said. “And there’s no noise—no vibration—no motor—nothing—”
“Must move by magic,” their grandpa said.
“Don’t be so mysterious, Grandpa,” Joe said impatiently. “Tell us how they run.”
“The drivers pedal them like bicycles.”
“That’s why the boats move so silently,” Jack said. “Why, they’re just like the barges of King Arthur’s day, aren’t they?”
“Don’t ask us, Sir Galahad,” Joe replied. “You’re the one who is always reading about King Arthur and his noble knights.”
Across the Common, tentative drumbeats and horn tootings of the band could be heard.
“Hear that, boys? The band is warming up. Wait another day for a Swan Boat ride, Jack. You don’t want to be out in the middle of the pond when the parade starts.” Mr. Fitzgerald pulled his watch out of his vest pocket and held it to his ear. He shook his head. Then he shook the watch. “Jack, my timepiece has stopped again. Run over and ask that policeman the correct hour.”
“What policeman, Grandpa?”
“Yonder by Washington’s statue.”
Jack took off on a run, while Joe Jr. and his grandfather watched the crowds gather along the street.
“Ah, this is a great day, Joe. It’s Uncle Sam’s birthday and everybody in America ought to be celebrating. Old John Adams had the right idea. He always said the Fourth of July should be a day of public rejoicing. Flags should wave, he said. Ring bells, fire the cannons, beat drums, and blow bugles!”
“Jack and I have been firing the cannons, all right,” Joe said with a grin. “We were up before dawn, shooting off firecrackers.”
“You boys will be worn out before the fracas begins. What kinds of fireworks do you have?”
“Jack and I wanted to get the biggest noise for the money—”
“Naturally,” his grandfather agreed.
“So we bought torpedoes. We really wanted to get some of those five- or six-inchers, but we didn’t dare. You know how Mother and the girls are about noisy firecrackers. Wish Dad could have been home for the Fourth,” Joe added wistfully. “It would be fun to shoot off the fireworks with him.”
“Once his business affairs in New York and Hollywood are settled, your father’ll be able to spend more time with you. He misses you just as much as you miss him,” Grandpa Fitz said sympathetically. “I’ll be glad to help you boys set off your fireworks. Did you buy anything besides the noisy type? You know your grandmother likes fancy ones.”
“We had to get sparklers for the girls, of course. Sparklers!” Joe growled the word.
“Sparklers seem tame to you boys?”
“I’ll say they do. Jack and I managed to get a few skyrockets and Roman candles though,” he added. “I like skyrockets best. They’re the most dangerous.”
“Oh, I don’t know.” His grandfather gave a chuckle. “You put Jack behind a Roman candle and it can get mighty hazardous.”
“Where is Jack, anyhow? You suppose he got lost over there?”
“Nonsense! An eight-year-old boy lost on Boston Common? Could happen, I suppose, but not if that boy is John Fitzgerald Kennedy. After all, you were both born and bred right here in Boston. And both sides of your family, too. Why, your mother first saw the light of day just a stone’s throw from Paul Revere’s house, and your Grandfather Kennedy once knew every square foot of this city—and just about every voter in it.”
“Not to mention our other grandfather!”
“Modesty forbids me—” Grandpa paused.
“Mayor of Boston for three—count ’em—three terms!” Half laughing, Joe gave a low, sweeping bow. “And the first Irishman to be so elected!”
A blare of trumpets and a roll of drums interrupted. The parade was about to begin.
“Where’s Jack?” Joe Jr. was concerned.
“Right here, Joe!” Jack was breathless from running. “When I heard that band, Grandpa, I came back lickety-split.”
“What took you so long?”
“I forgot what you sent me for, Grandpa,” Jack said sheepishly. “There was a hurdy-gurdy on the other side of the Common with a cute monkey. I guess I sort of followed them. It was half the music and half the monkey. I forgot to watch where I was going and wound up way over on Tremont Street.”
“You’d forget your head if it wasn’t fastened to your shoulders,” Joe said.
“Maybe so, but I won’t forget what I just saw over in the Old Granary Grounds.” Jack’s face was aglow. “It was like walking right inside a history book to see those famous names on the headstones.”
“Boston is a history book,” his grandfather said. “Yankee Doodle town itself.”
“I recognized almost all of the names on the headstones over there. Paul Revere, Samuel Adams, John Hancock. Even Benjamin Franklin’s mother and father are buried there. But, Grandpa, who was Crispus Attucks?”
“Attucks? Crispus Attucks? Let me think.” For a moment, Mr. Fitzgerald seemed stumped. Then he smiled delightedly. “Ah, I remember. He was the first man killed in the Revolution, Jack. Shot at the Boston Massacre, way back in 1770. Interesting, too, because he really didn’t have much to fight for. He was a Negro without any home or family. Yet he was the first person to die in the Revolution.”
Just then a shout went up from the crowd. “Here comes the parade!”
The boys and their grandfather edged toward the scene. “Grandpa,” Jack said, “I bet you used to ride in the parades when you were the mayor of Boston.”
“That I did, Jack, and proudly, too.”
First came four of Boston’s finest—brawny, stalwart policemen marching jauntily along.
“How can they stand those long coats on a sweltering day like this?” Jack asked.
“Because they’ve Irish blood in their veins, and in Boston the Irish have learned to stand anything.” Grandpa seemed to be joking, but there was a half-serious look in his eyes.
Next came the band. The tuba player seemed to have a note for each foot as he marched along. Oom-pah! Oompah! Left, right, left!
The drummer was an artist. He crossed his sticks in the air, waved to the crowd, and never even missed a beat.
Someone lit a package of Chinese firecrackers and tossed them neatly into the tuba. The oompah was so loud that the tuba player didn’t hear the explosions, but when smoke began to filter out through his walrus mustache, he stopped to investigate.
The crowd went wild with laughter.
After the patriotic floats passed by with many an “oh” and “ah” from the spectators, the Civil War veterans marched down the parade route together, side by side. There were still more than a dozen of them, dressed in the blue uniforms of the Union Army, their campaign hats gleaming with golden cords. They got a big hand. So did the veterans of the Spanish-American War. But when the young fellows who had come back from “Over There” stepped along in their high-collared khaki uniforms with knee breeches and rolled puttees, they got a rousing welcome.
“Look, Joe,” Jack pointed excitedly, “next come the Boy Scouts. A couple of years and you can march with them.” He added wistfully, “Four more years for me to wait.”
A line of cars ended the parade, along with some of Boston’s regular horse-drawn vehicles. Most of the cars were new, others were older models, but all were fancy, polished, and quite splendid to behold.
The boys knew the cars by heart. They called out the names as the machines drove by.
There was a new Cadillac touring car, then an Auburn. A majestic Deusenberg rolled by, then an air-cooled Franklin, its comic-looking hood drawing wisecracks from the spectators. A Chalmers with a body as big as a whaleboat went by, and an older Stanley Steamer quietly hissed along the route.
There was a Pierce Arrow, then a Stutz Bearcat, then a LaSalle with pigskin upholstery. A Cunningham Speedster and a Marmon six-cylinder followed.
“Wish we had a car with a rumble seat,” Joe said. “Look at that REO Flying Cloud!”
“Humph, isn’t your father’s Rolls Royce good enough for you, Joe?”
“It’s too good, Grandpa. I like our Ford just as much, but I wish we had something speedy looking. Like that Packard Roadster.” Joe’s eyes were wide with admiration.
“Can’t beat the Lincoln for my money,” his grandfather said. “Henry Ford must think so, too. He’s just bought the Lincoln Motor Company.”
“You mean the same Henry Ford that built our Tin Lizzie?” Jack asked.
“One and the same,” Mr. Fitzgerald replied. “Wonder what old Henry is going to do with an elegant car like the Lincoln? That Police Flyer is something different from the Model T.”
“Look, Grandpa! Here come the horses. Do you suppose there’ll be a runaway?”
“There usually is, Jack. Never saw a Fourth of July parade without one!”
Red, white, and blue bunting covered the huge boxlike milk wagons. An S.S. Pierce delivery truck was drawn by a team of dappled grays. In the sunlight, their harness brasses gleamed gold as the spirited horses pranced along.
The Bay State Livery Stable had a huge float. Its fleet of horses and wagons delivered coal and ice, milk, and newspapers to all of Boston. An ice wagon went by, covered with canvas like an old-fashioned prairie schooner.
Then it happened—the runaway that everyone expected and the boys secretly hoped for!
There was a thunder of hoofs, a volley of shouts, and a crowd of running men and boys. A horse galloped down Charles Street and turned the corner right at the entrance to the Public Gardens. The buggy he was pulling smashed against the high granite curb.
Traces snapped. The horse was flung free. With a delighted whinny, the animal lifted his head to the breeze and took off at a gallop.
The parade was officially over!
Later that afternoon, the heat settled down over Fenway Park like a thick blanket, leaving Jack limp and lazy. A faint breath of air stirred under the trees by the bleachers.
The five hot dogs he had gulped so hurriedly began to stir uneasily in his stomach. So did the eight paper cups of pink lemonade. When the vendor with the cones of cotton candy went by, Jack had to turn his eyes away. Gruesome, he thought. He gulped and wished he’d skipped that third ice cream.
The sound of his grandfather’s cheerful voice broke in on his misery. “Oh-h-h—take—me—out to—the—bal-l-l-l game!”
“Grandpa!” Jack interrupted him with a huge grin. “The only tune you’re supposed to know is ‘Sweet Adeline’!”
“That’s for my voting public, Jack. But it’s not the song for Fenway Park when a doubleheader is about to begin.” Jack’s grandfather, Honey Fitz, looked around with a delighted smile. “So the Washington Senators are pitting their championship strength against our Boston Pilgrims—”
“No! Grandpa, you’ve just got to remember!” Joe shook his head. “It isn’t the Boston Pilgrims any more. Now it’s the Red Sox.”
“Maybe,” his grandfather replied, slightly disgruntled. “But just the same I can remember the Pilgrims.”
“You can, Grandpa?” Jack had a wink for him. “That’s three hundred years!”
“Jack, you’ve got a good sense of humor.” His grandfather looked at him seriously. “Don’t ever lose it.”
The Senators may have been the champions of the American League, but they still lost to Boston in the first game of that doubleheader on the Fourth of July in 1925. But in the second game, their Bucky Harris knocked a home run over the left field fence and Washington leaped ahead with a score of five to one.
The game ended with the Senators dividing scores with the Red Sox and with Mr. Fitzgerald taking his grandsons to the Boston dugout.
The pitcher for the Red Sox, Howard Ehmke, had a hearty welcome for the boys and their grandfather. “Howdy, Mr. Fitzgerald. Going to sing us a tune? We need to cheer up after losing that one.”
“You pitched a great game, Mr. Ehmke,” Joe Jr. said. “The Senators just got four runs.”
“And the Pilgrims came through with seven!” Grandpa Fitz added cheerily.
“Grandpa!” Jack whispered. “Remember what Joe told you. It’s not the Pilgrims now.”
“My boy,” his grandfather said, drawing himself up as tall as his short frame could reach, “my boy, when I was mayor of Boston, I used to throw out the first ball of the season. I can remember the Boston Pilgrims from those days, and the Red Sox is too newfangled for me.”
“The Pilgrims was a good name for a Boston team,” Howard Ehmke said.
“Glad somebody agrees with me, Mr. Ehmke! And now, these grandsons of mine want to have their score cards autographed if your arm isn’t too tired from all that pitching.”
“Never too tired to sign my name for you, Mr. Fitzgerald, or for your grandchildren. They look like mighty fine boys.”
The mighty fine boys were mighty tired boys at the day’s end. As he popped into bed that night, Jack wiggled his toes underneath the cool sheets and breathed a happy sigh.
The evening had been just as exciting as the earlier events of the day. The whole sky over Boston had been aglow with red, green, and purple clouds. Out of the inky blackness, a series of patriotic images had lit up the night.
The boys saw Valley Forge with its snow, bonfires, and stacked muskets. Angry patriots dumped tea in Boston Harbor. A brilliant and sparkling Uncle Sam rode in a car with revolving wheels, and the airplane display even had a pinwheel whirling around for a propeller.
At the very end, of course, there was the American flag with the Stars and Stripes appearing in full and glowing color. A barrage of bombs exploded in little bursts of light, echoing through the darkness, and the Fourth of July was over.
Rubbing his eyes sleepily, Jack yawned and murmured into his pillow, “What a great day! It had everything—a parade, a ball game, fireworks, and Grandpa!”