No Fireworks On The Fourth

I’ve seen, online, that there are several states have cancelled Fourth of July Firework display mainly because of the very real threat of fires brought on by severe drought conditions.. I guess that’s quite reasonable though it seems almost sacrilegious when viewed through the perspective of Founding Father John Adams who wrote to his wife about the signing of the Declaration of Independence (though he was off by two days) that the day should be…”solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”

While it might not have happened more than once or twice, it seemed that the small town I grew up in on Cape Cod, Orleans, only had fireworks displays every other year.

The reason for the cancellations were quite political and caused by people who would, today, be quite comfortable being labelled as “Tea Party” members, i.e. short-sited, moronic dunderheads.

Our fireworks were shot off down at Nauset Beach for several reasons among which were you can’t set the Atlantic Ocean on fire, the beach had the biggest parking lot in town and the town’s bandstand was there for concerts put on by the Town Band (to which I, and later my brothers, all belonged).Coincidentally it was also where my family had its restaurant. The only one on the beach.

Orleans had what is called “Town Meeting” form of government. Truly the most democratic form of governance there is. Every year a couple of weeks before the Town Meeting registered voters and tax payers of the town would receive the annual “Warrant.” The Warrant contained all the issues that were to be faced by the Board of Selectmen for the coming year and all the spending issues that were to be expected: school budget, how much money was going to be spent for the library, the fire and police departments, road maintenance expenditures, that sort of thing. There would also be an appropriation for such things as Fourth of July fireworks.

At Town Meeting anyone could get up and have their say as to whether or not such funds should be appropriated and spent and one of the early “Teabaggers” would get up on their hind legs and say that the town shouldn’t spend money on fireworks at the beach because all it was doing was giving Jim Philbrick’s Snack Shack a huge pay day at tax payer expense, what with the crowd going to the beach and buying popcorn, sodas, hot dogs, etc. at my family’s restaurant. There would generally be enough people to agree that the money could be better spent on other things.

So, that year we’d have to go to a neighboring town if we wanted to partake of a grinchless Fourth.

Then, of course, the following year’s Town Meeting there would be someone else who would get up and ask why there wasn’t any money being set aside for a Fourth of July fireworks display? “When I was a kid,” they’d say, “we always had a fireworks display. Whatever happened to them?” Then there’d be a special appropriation made and we’d have fireworks again for a year and this pattern seemed to go on year after year. Or at least so it seemed that way to me.

The interesting thing was that while the Fourth always WAS a big day for our business, in the 35 years my family operated the Snack Shack the Fourth was NEVER the busiest day of the year. It was almost always beaten by just an ordinary day that peaked with a simple Wednesday night band concert.

Here in Panama, of course, the Fourth is just the day sandwiched between the third and the fifth of July. But over in Gringolandia, better known as Boquet, a couple of restaurants are holding Fourth of July parties for the expat community.

For those of you who aren’t going to have a fireworks display this year I leave you with this from the Concours International Feux d’Artifice pyromélodiques @ Monaco 2010, part of an International fireworks competition held every year with the display synchronized to music. Enjoy and have a happy fourth.




Filed under Uncategorized

3 responses to “No Fireworks On The Fourth

  1. John E Richardson

    Best onion rings (and fried clams) on the planet were found a PhilbricksI Spending summers on Nauset Heights (1960-1964 with grand parents and worked as a dishwasher at the Casserole Kitchen) gave me and all my town friends plenty of opportunity to indulge in those crispy crunchy yummies. I was born on CC and lived there for a while a number of time (1946 – 1952) (1970 – 1973) (1978 – 1983) which meant more rings (and often fried clams as well). When I visit even now I go and I still call it Philbrick’s Snack Shack. All things change.

    -John Richardson

    There were plenty of Richardsons in Orleans when I was growing up there. We, you and I, never lived there at the same time, though. Except for a few summers I essentially left Orleans after I was in the first graduating class of Nauset Regional H.S, in 1960.

    In all my travels there’s only been one place that even came close to our family’s onion rings and clams. It’s a small place on Cordova Road in Fort Lauderdale called Kelley’s Landing, and they’re transplanted from Quincy, Mass.

    Was Bleeker Martin still the owner of the Casserole Kitchen when you were there? I worked as a cook alongside Bleeker in my senior year in high school.

  2. In Panama, as you probably know, we cough quite a lot of money on fireworks for Carnivals, Christmas and New Year’s Day. The sky is practically set on fire by a billion rays of multicolored rays.

    I have to admit I have a bit of remorse to see all that money being burned for a couple of minutes of visual delight, when there are so many other more important things to do with that money in our cash-strapped countryside towns. Medicine, books, food, clothes, and other essential items comes to my head.

    Yep, today is just another day between the Third and Fifth of July without much content. Still many Americans living in this country, will light up their little piece of sky and eat a few goodies from back home.

    Happy Fourth of July to you, my dear friend.


  3. Jeff Philbrick (Richard's younger brother and 4th son of James S. Philbrick)

    Hey, from Blue Heaven, Chapel Hill, NC…the southern side of Heaven!
    Just a few observations and comments about the July 4th celebrations at Nauset Beach.

    I’m surprised my brother never mentioned the Bonfire finals at the town’s July 4th fire works as I recollect from my childhood. As I remember it, for weeks before the 4th the town DPW would gather up large burnable items like wooden packing crates, pallets and even an occasional dory long past seaworthy. About 1/2 mile south of the beach parking lot the junk would be piled in a heap as high as a house in a clear spot in the dunes off Pochet Landing.

    As the fire works reached a climax the pile was torched by the local fire department, standing by to water down any errant sparks. Then a giant sparkling billboard size fireworks display of Old Glory was also lit up and a public address loudspeaker would blare Souza’s “Stars & Stripes Forever”. What a show!!! Even old John Adams would have been proud and envious of our home town.

    One small correction. Brothers David & Gary played in the Orleans AND Chatham town bands but neither Mark or I played in the town bands. I did play flute and piccolo in the high school marching band. My all time favorite was to play Souza, especially Stars and Stripes Forever on the piccolo…go figure.

    I took over and ran the family beach concession when dad retired and continued to make the famous onion rings and clams from 1979 to 1989. When I took over the operation in 1979 I payed the town of Orleans a flat fee of $2500 a season to operate the concession on a three year contract. Wholesale prices In 1979 were: 50 lb bag of Spanish Onions $5, 1 lbs of cod fish 50 cents, one gal of shucked soft shell clams $8. When I left the beach operation in 1989 to partner in Arnold’ s restaurant on Rt 6 in Eastham (which I left in 1986) I was paying the town a flat fee of $27,000 per season for a three year contract. Whole sale prices: a 50 lb bag of onions $25, the George’ s banks fishing grounds off Cape Cod were depleted and a lb of cod was $8, depending on availability due to red tide, a gallon of shucked clams ranged from $75 to over $100. I guess you could say I got out at the right time. From what I know from the guy who took over the Nauset operation after I left and renamed it Liam’s (after his son) he was paying a flat fee plus a percentage.

    The town never put on any 4th of July fireworks display the ten years I was operating on Nauset beach nor any other July 4th up until I left town in 1995 to relocate to North Carolina.

    Now, being a businessman, I can understand the reluctance of some to expend public money that would benefit a private enterprise paying rent via a flat fee. As a businessman, I can also see the advantage of expending public funds to promote a private business that is also paying a percentage of any increase sales back in rent. Why the town never saw this I’ll never know.

    Welcome, Jeff. But you’re actually the sixth son but the fourth surviving son after Jimmy and Howard died.

    They didn’t have the bonfires when I was there. They must have started those after I went away to college.

    I think it would be fair to say that Jeff and I are justifiably proud of our family’s record of unparallelled excellence in fried foods. We learned from our dad who learned his skills at the White Spot in Woburn, Mass.

    In the summer of ’64 I had a place called “Philbrick’s Beach House” by the harbor up in Wellfleet. I’ll never forget one horrible, rainy day there. I was about to call it quits early in the afternoon after not having a single customer all day. A woman came in just as I was ready to shut the kettles off. She ordered a half pint of fried clams. After eating the first one she said, “You know, I’ve only had clams this good one other place in my life.”

    I asked her where that was, fully expecting her to say at the Snack Shack, but I was stunned when she said, “At the White Spot up in Woburn.” You could have knocked me down with an onion ring. I’d watched the White Spot burn to the ground, never to reopen, over a dozen years earlier.

    Thanks for reading the blog, Jeff, and taking the time to leave a comment. I hope it won’t be the last time.