Like every neighborhood in Brooklyn, certain days held certain traditions. These traditions were almost sacred to us kids and even our parents knew the futility of their objections. Come the mantle of darkness or even the beginnings, the sounds of warfare seemed to move through the boroughs like a rolling thunder, the crackling of firecrackers the boom of the cherry bombs made for a scene out of Normandy. The thrill of lighting something that could blow away a finger or eye only added to the excitement for my buddies and I! Likewise, when election day rolled around, it was our patriotic duty to manufacture a barn fire from the remnants of a cellar.
I wake up still recovering from my day with Pauli yesterday. I have sore muscles and pain all over my body. I figure we sold about 150 watermelons and I must have delivered about half that amount. But it is the 4th of July and the big day is finally here! It’s about 9 AM and Jimmy is already waiting on my doorstep for me to come down to meet him.
Jimmy (Pizza) is a skinny sort of kid with my build and a normal size head. He has jet-black hair with a crew cut with big dark, almost black, round eyes.
Most of the time he likes to play war with sticks that look like guns. He always wants to be the bad soldier and torture his enemy. I think he is a little weird. Jimmy’s parents and aunt, who is my Godmother, are close friends of my Mom and Dad. Unlike my parents, Jimmy has a big family in the U.S. with loads of aunts, uncles, cousins and a grandmother. My Parents’ families live or come from both Italy and Argentina.
I think that Jimmy’s parents are rich since his father and mother own Rosie’s Italian Restaurant and Bar. Once in a while, we stop at Rosie’s Italian Restaurant and Bar, and Jimmy will ask his father to make us a pizza for lunch, that’s a great treat for me.
We don’t have a solid plan for our day, but we do know that we intend to blow up half the neighborhood come sundown. “Hey, Jimmy what’s up? Are you ready to do some damage today?” He looks at me with a big smile on his face and says: “No shit, I bought a load of fireworks on President Street last week”. I think to myself, ‘no doubt from Blackie Parisi.’ “Me and Pecker got a bag of fireworks and cherry bombs too! Let’s go find Pecker and figger out when we should start this war.”
We start walking toward Pecker’s house together. The neighborhood seems so quiet! All the factories are closed, and the longshoremen have the day off. Nick’s Sandwich shop is also closed for the holiday. We know that each street will do their best to have a bigger and louder display of fireworks than the next block just for the fun of it.
The 4th of July celebration is just as big if not bigger than the fires we set on Election Day in November. I’ll never know why we make large bonfires on each block on Election Day. Starting in September we collect and store as much junk, like old tires and wood as we can find.
(Pic) Junk Collected for Bonfire
The main source of this wood comes from the condemned houses that are being torn down to make room for the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Another great source is all the empty wooden grape boxes stacked up in front of the many houses during the wine making season or any wooden bench, cellar board covers or wood pallets that we happen to find. Come Election Day, people will stack up all this junk and wood on every corner and the pile will be over twenty feet high, they soak it with gasoline and light it. Each block will do their best to try to outdo the other, like some sort of competition or contest. Every year some kids burn their hands or clothing by getting too close to the fire in order to throw more stuff on the blaze. Wow, I don’t know how the firemen keep up with all these fires going on at the same time. It is quite a sight, as sometimes these fires will set off a building fire.
(Pic) Bonfire in Full Force
But today we’re looking to do our best to set off as many fireworks as possible. We turn the corner to Pecker’s house and start calling out his name. “Pecker get the hell down here.” Pecker comes down and says: “It’s too early to start shooting off our stash of fireworks.” So, we’ll look around if there is anyone else hanging out on the corner. We see Reno, his brother Henry, Mikey, Vinnie, Nunzio and a couple of other kids standing around. We hook up the rest of the gang and choose sides to play “Buck-Buck”. There are five of us on each team. Each team will have a Captain and a ‘pillow kid’.
I am the Captain of my team and Henry is the Captain of his team. We are playing on the sidewalk near Hicks and Nelson Street against the wall of the Cardinal Tank factory building. My team is up first. Reno, a short kid is the ‘pillow’ of Henry’s team; he has to put his back against the wall. Next, Henry and the rest of his team line-up bent over holding each other to form one large horse. The first kid on the line is bent over holding Reno, the ‘pillow’s’ waist, while he is standing upright with his back against the wall. There you have it, four kids bent over holding Reno against the wall.
Now the action starts. The first team is lined up back in the street about twenty feet away. I direct the smallest kids to run as fast as they can and jump on the horse. I save Nunzio, who is the tallest and heaviest kid for last, that’s why we call him “Superman”. After my team is all on the horse I yell out: “Buck-Buck how many horns are up?”
The first jumper on my team holds up his hand and shows Reno his fingers -anywhere from one to four fingers. If Henry calls out the right number their team goes next. If the horse gives way before the number is called because of all the weight on them, well, we go again. The horse holds long enough for Henry to make the call. “Four Horns” It’s the right call confirmed by his team member, Reno the pillow, is looking at the first jumper when the call is made. We play this game for a couple of hours until it gets dark, then it will be time for us to start our 4th of July celebration.