Archive for Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fourth of July fireworks show outlives small town’s vitality

July 2, 2009

My earliest memories for the Fourth of July are those at my grandparent’s farm, where my parents often summered when my dad was in graduate school or during school vacation when my parents were teaching.

My memories are of eating watermelon on the front porch as my dad, uncles and granddad would light different fireworks in the road in front of the house. Consumer fireworks in those days weren’t as impressive as those available now. The whiz-bang of a rocket or the one-minute sparkly show from cones just wasn’t that impressive and was definitely second to the watermelon in the evening’s highlights.

The first big fireworks show I remember attending was at Goff, about seven miles from granddad’s farm. Goff wasn’t and isn’t a big town, but it always had a number of buildings that intrigued me. There was the road house that sits on a corner of the state highway that runs through town (named Kansas Highway 9 despite its east-west route) where a bus carrying the high school basketball team my dad coached would stop on the way home from games with team and fans to eat and dance to rock ‘n roll — a new thing at the time — a craftsman-style Chevrolet dealer with a living space above the ground-floor showroom, a corner bank very much like the one in downtown Eudora, a classic gas station, wooden John Deere dealership with a bright green logo painted on the side, a large former industrial grain complex along the railroad that was going to ruin even in my childhood and a small downtown park where the fireworks show would be.

Like so many other of the state’s rural towns, Goff has fallen on hard times since my childhood. The bank is closed, as is the John Deere dealership — its logo now faded almost into the grey wood siding. The station is open, but remodeling has stolen its charm. The Chevrolet dealership is of course gone, but it survives as a residence. The roadhouse also remains, although country music has replaced rock ‘n roll in the jukebox.

The town sinks even more in the decline as you leave the highway. There is a park where the brick school house once stood. Houses are abandoned or look as if they should be. Broken down cars and trucks adorn many yards.

But the summer evening of my first fireworks show, the place was magical. We couldn’t have arrived until after the cows were milked at my granddad’s dairy farm, but it seems in my memory that the evening was a week long. I engorged myself with ice cream, hot dogs, sparklers, pop and many other aspects of Americana in a frenzy of juiced-up companions let loose among the crowd with fists full of firecrackers.

The only thing that slowed us down was the start of the fireworks show. It was my introduction to the vertigo from climbing and blossoming bursts, the assault on skull and chest from the concussion of exploding shells and overwhelming colors. I remember a long wait before an America flag was lit on a wire mesh frame.

Goff may be mostly a memory, but the town still has a Fourth of July picnic and fireworks show. I find that comforting.

I’m sure downtown Goff still looks great under the light of an exploding shell.

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