The Fourth of July was one of the best holidays of our childhood. Our family always celebrated at Northwood Cove, along with a big gathering of friends. Northwood Cove was a group of properties on the shore of Green Bay on the north edge of Menominee, just beyond Henes Park, and just before the city limits. There were three big wood and stone houses there: the Sargents, the Caleys, and the Mars. The annual party was at the Caleys, who had three boys, Bill, Tom, and Bruce, each a year older, respectively, than I, Steven, and Peter. Along with the Northwood Cove-ites and ourselves, other families likely to be there included the O’Haras, Worths, St. Peters, Steffkes, Jacobsens, and Burkes.
Billy Caley was the oldest kid and the best athlete. Bill would organize footraces on the beach. He would mark off a hundred yard course. Then he’d give different kids yardage handicaps, depending on their ages, sizes, and running abilities. The smallest kids would start at the fifty yard line and others at the forty, thirty, etc. Billy would be alone back at the 0 yard line. No matter how far ahead the other kids were positioned, Billy would almost always win the race. After that we’d play touch football, and he would be a defensive back. He’d tell the opposing quarterback to throw the ball as far away from him as possible, but, as often as not, he’d intercept the wobbly pass and run for a touchdown. Billy went on to be the star running back for the Dartmouth College football team, though his prowess was probably not attributable to our practices on the beach.
In the mid-afternoon, the dads would take the older boys in two cars to Peshtigo in Marinette County to buy fireworks. We’d get sparklers, firecrackers, cherry bombs, and snakes for the kids to play with and roman candles and other skyrockets for the night-time show. All the dads pitched in, so we were able to buy a plentiful supply. Looking over the wondrous merchandise at the fireworks shop and making final choices got our hearts beating fast.
One year we were blasting tin cans into the air with cherry bombs, then running and catching them. One can went particularly high, and Arthur Gontay threw up his hands and yelled, “I’ve got it!” I didn’t pay attention and ran smack into his upraised head. His two “permanent” front teeth were knocked out and wound up stuck in my forehead. I’ve still got the scars, and I presume Arthur still has his two porcelain replacement teeth. They rushed Arthur to the dentist and me to the doctor. I remember Dr. Sethney telling me that human bites were a lot more dangerous than dog bites. I visited Arthur a few days later and I felt great remorse.
All the kids would go swimming in Green Bay. The water was shallow, and you had to walk out fifty yards before it came up to your waist. Green Bay was really cold, and you had the choice of either walking out on tiptoes (which was tortuous as the water rose to the top of your bathing trunks) or just diving in headfirst as soon as possible which was a piercing shock to your total body. There was no attractive option available, though, once under, your body quickly adjusted. A hundred yards out and the water got over your head, but, if you swam fifteen or twenty yards further, you would reach a sandbar, and it would only be a couple of feet deep. There were three such sandbars as you progressed out into the bay. It was a little unnerving to swim outward toward the horizon and not be really certain if you’d come to another sandbar or whether the water was simply getting deeper and deeper.
In the late afternoon the moms would cook hamburgers, baked potatoes, and corn on the cob on the beach. When the sun had set, we’d have the fireworks show. The city didn’t sponsor fireworks in those days, and ours was the biggest display in the twin cities The older kids got to light the wicks of the skyrockets, and then we all stood back and ooh’d and aah’d. Everybody, adults and kids, had a good time and there was a strong feeling of wonderment and togetherness. Then we’d all go home and imagine how great next year would be.
-Terry S (11-14): Dear David: I am gently weeping, having spent the last half hour or so reviewing the entries that result from clicking on "childhood," Since your childhood was my childhood, the memories are visceral and almost tangible. think I told you that when I found a place to stay on the Bay for my 70th year sojourn in Menominee this past summer, the place that I stayed was Art Gonty's house. When I told Kiera where I was staying, she immediately recalled the incident with the fireworks and Art's teeth and your forehead. Also - the most significant event that occurred vis a vis the Northwood Cove 4th of July observance was Kiera's birth in 1947. Mother went directly to the hospital from the festivities… BTW - the Bay is still better! Best,Terry