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Joan Knows: Fourth of July a time to celebrate, remember

Perhaps it was all of the “USA!” chatter, the television ads that combine mattress ads with patriotic symbols or the front of her grandpa’s house covered with red, white and blue flags that prompted young Olivia to ask about the Fourth of July.

Delighted to be asked about my favorite observance, I gathered her twin sister, Leia, and began a chat about the revolution, the Boston Tea Party, Thomas Jefferson, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross and the Liberty Bell.

I think I lost their interest sometime after the redcoats and Washington crossing the Delaware, so I shifted the narrative to Fourth of July memories from my early days.

Summertime was fun around here (thinking way back to the ’40s).  Hot, to put it mildly, but tolerable given the lack of choice. There were a few certifiable cool places – temperature-wise – such as the Arcada Theater.

The challenge for pedestrians – and walk everywhere was the mode – was to cross the Main Street bridge without inhaling the mass attack of the “river bugs.” Best not to breathe too deeply once across the river due to the caravan of smelly and melancholy cattle trucks on a main-line run to the stockyards.

Once at the movie theater, a mixed metaphor of Venetian palace and Native-American portraits, the later-to-fit other meaning of “cool” commenced:  double features! 

Many of us seemed to prefer the “B” movies in black and white and the cowboy flicks to the featured MGM musicals or sappy love stories. But it was a welcome deal, nevertheless.

The long and inviting lobby was shifting from propaganda posters. (“Loose lips sink ships!”)

I swore that I would never be so careless. The new motif was coming attractions, such as the too-lurid-for-us Jane Russell movie or the foreign film series featuring “The Bicycle Thief.”

Our family ritual was the Sunday movie and five acts of vaudeville. Grandma Sharkin insisted on the luxury seating in the balcony by the railing,  which meant a quick run downstairs for more popcorn but no obstructed vision and a sense of superiority.

The stage show acts were predictable, yet made upbeat by the actual pit orchestra and pipe organ accompaniment. 

Does anyone recall the soprano with handkerchief who always sang “My Hero”?  My favorite was Louie, the dog, whose trick was to resist the commands of his trainer. Appearing regularly were magicians, tumblers, skaters, a mandolin player and a wanna-be comedian. Nowadays, I am more than OK with “Law and Order” marathons.

The July holiday was usually wrapped around a weekend carnival at Pottawatomie Park. The rides were standard, not thrilling, but the lines were not too long. Possible to catch a breeze on top of the Ferris wheel and gaze down on the folks at the bingo tent looking for the hoped-for number to complete the five-corn-kernel spread to win – wow – a fake crystal ashtray.

In the background an Industrial League softball game was drawing those bugs to the outfield lights.

Somewhere there were live pony rides, and the familiar faces of local vets running the games of chance (win a ham?) and the presence of Chet and Barbara Anderson’s or Maury Nelson’s enterprises.

And fireworks!

Not much in the way of outdoor grilling. Refreshing hometown Colonial ice cream. Road trips to Batavia or Wheaton for popcorn. To Elgin for Morris Bar-B-Que or a Leitner’s hamburger. Those were the days.

Fast forward. Much to celebrate as communities have worked hard to build a much-envied quality of life.

So glad we are not cited as snobs. (Naperville won that honor recently.) Some of us could smile a bit more and not resent our visitors, and sooner or later get a grip on critters that prey on vulnerable pets and people.

Once again a salute to the private sector that sees problems and goes into action: Darlene Marcusson and the Lazarus volunteers, Doris Hunt and the dedicated CASA people, Lea Minalga and the life-saving Hearts of Hope, to name a few. Sky rockets to them!

Finally, Olivia, Leia and Mazy are proud of their “Poppy,” who has donned his stars and stripes do-rag and dyed his white beard with red and blue accents. They now appreciate another meaning of  “patriot.”

If you see him, urge him to keep up the spirit of ’76 ’til next week when somebody close to him has a pertinent birthday.

So, with liberty and justice for all, God bless America! Celebrate!

• Joan Arteberry is a longtime resident of St. Charles. Her columns are featured in the Kane County Chronicle’s Neighbors section every other Friday. Write to her at

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