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Chuck Brooks: Setting Fourth with independent memories

When I sat down to think of a topic for this week's thoughts, I realized it would be the last column before the Fourth of July holiday.

Not sure how that's sneaking up on us so quickly, but OK Let's talk Independence Day! Most would agree this is a holiday people look forward to simply because it's in July when the weather is far nicer than December holiday weather. Barring any unforeseen tragedy, I will be experiencing my 62nd Fourth of July next week, but the holiday has changed for me. When we were kids, the first big thrill I remember for the big day was waiting for it to get dark and then going out in front of our house.

Mom and Dad would light our sparklers, and we'd run around the front lawn, spelling our name in the air with our sparkling wands. I can remember burning my fingers a few times as the metal eventually got hot.

Another popular item of the time was the Cobra Black Snakes. They were little sodium bicarbonate pills that, once lit, would grow into long, winding black snakes that instantly blew away with any breeze that might be around. They smelled terrible, but they were magical to those of us who were young and gullible. I was reminded by my sister that Mom and Dad would take the family out to Raceway Park for fireworks that night. It was the place to be for the conclusion of that day.

Booms and screams

However, the Brookses never stayed too long once our sister joined the family. She couldn't tolerate the fireworks and her screaming, fighting and kicking usually had us heading back home well before the grand finale. She was such a party pooper. Might explain what I was doing in therapy at age 10. Post-high school and pre-college, I spent the fourth in Columbus, Wis., with my friend Eunice and her daughter who was a year my elder. We'd watch their parade, and then we'd head to the city park where I was introduced to my first drum and bugle corps show. I had never heard one, nor did I know such a thing existed. After that first time, I was a fan and still am to this day. There is a black hole in my memory as to what I did in my first few years in Rosemount. However, it was probably within the first six years of my existence at Rosemount High School when I was asked to step and announce the Fourth of July parade in Apple Valley. I vaguely remember their previous announcer was to be the grand marshal that year, so I thought the gig would be temporary, but lo and behold, I was wrong.

This coming week, I'll be back on the flatbed, parked in the Valley Bike and Ski Shop across from Walmart, for at least the 30th year. I've missed announcing that parade once. I was in Alaska.

Nature cooperates

The most amazing fact about that parade all these years is it has never been rained on once. Each and every year, the weather has cooperated. There have been years Mother Nature looked like she was undecided on whether to keep that streak alive, but we've never gotten wet.

There was one year, not that long ago, when the temps went over 100. The street had many empty spots. It was just too hot to sit outside for 90 minutes. In the early years of doing the parade, we'd go over to Hobbs Park, and I'd emcee a talent show. A couple of years, they even had a group of people being sworn in as citizens. It was kind of cool to witness. Eventually, all of the hoopla went from there to the softball fields on 140th. I suspect because that's where the fireworks exist each year. Though I'd spend my afternoon in Apple Valley with the parade, the evening for a number of years belonged to Taste of Minnesota and the fireworks there. I sometimes witnessed those fireworks from one of the upper floors in a high rise on Seventh Street. The fireworks were basically at eye level. Other years, I'd be on a deck in Woodbury with people, listening to all the fireworks in the communities around us, and in the last eight or so years, I've gone home after being fried from the parade, I'd grill something special for dinner, and when Apple Valley's fireworks began, I'd go stand in my driveway and watch them from there. No crowds and no traffic. Sweet.

This year again, my Fourth will be not unlike these last previous years. Willy appreciates the company since he hates the noise from the explosions. A little catnip, however, and he's in la la land. Hmmm ... I wonder if humans can take catnip. Naaaahhh. Probably not a good idea. Next week, the conclusion to last week's The Reunion! 'Til then, Happy Fourth to you all!