We were very lucky, the three J's. We lived on the bank of Toms River in the early 1950's, before CIBA Geigy decided to pour its effluent directly into the River. Hence, before the Atlantic blue crab, the flounder, the fluke, the bluefish, the blowfish, the shrimp (yes, shrimp) , the eel, and the perch disappeared, along with almost all other living creatures.
The river was magical, but never more so than on the night of July 4th (any year) when we dragged our lawn chairs across Riverside Drive to watch the fireworks put on by the volunteer fire departments of Beachwood and Island Heights, at opposing ends of the River. We could barely see the Beachwood show, but one of us would watch upriver at the western sky for the tell tale rocket while another would look north across the river for the same sign of imminent illumination from Island Heights. "Here it comes," the watcher would say, and we would all crane our necks in the same direction to catch it.
All along the river, we audience members expressed our appreciation with our noise makers, little metal contraptions that sounded like kazoos when you cranked them. (Bad description I know, but it is hard to describe the party noisemakers of the early 50's. ) Boats and yachts anchored in the river-- in increasing numbers over the years -- would toot their horns in appreciation. And the river carried the noise, so that I honestly believed that the sponsors of the shows could hear the roar from boats and shore and know we loved them. Of course we were also invited to show our appreciation to the firemen who drove slowly all along the river soliciting donations. That was part of the excitement, when the Beachwood fire engine would come by and we could put our quarters in the cups held by the firemen themselves.
With 60 years' perspective, I have come to understand that the Toms River shows were limited in variety and opulence. We waited a minute or longer between flares. There weren't that many bursts, let's face it. We even had time to chat between bursts. But we didn't know better, and it was something else again to listen to mother Alice share her unbounded enthusiasm for the ones with the blossom of twirling gold fishes that made a hissing sound as they twirled. I swear to you, even today when I see a firework with the gold fishes I think of Alice and her definitive statement, never to be challenged, that the fireworks with fishes are the very best in the world.
You knew when the firework show was about to end, as the popping noises like gunfire started, but on Toms River the very last flare contained a little American flag that wafted gently down from the sky. That's when we would hear all the motor boat engines starting up, green lights on their sterns moving along the dark river in the direction of the falling flag. Only in New Jersey could emergency responders deliberately arrange an accident waiting to happen: a motorboat race in the dark in pursuit of a little American flag.
I thought of all this last night, when the golf course up the street put on its annual pre-July 4 firework display. Just by chance, they go off directly in front of my bedroom window, between two huge Beech trees, affording me a mezzanine seat on my bed for my own personal show. Early in my life, Toms River conveniently brought fireworks to our front door. Late in my life, Kenwood Country Club has seen fit to continue the tradition. Don't worry about the hassle of getting to the Fireworks at the Capitol, Judy. The fireworks will come to you.