My Childhhod Fourth of July

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was the biggest party of the year. I grew up in the small town of Wilton, Connecticut. Our town had a parade from the town graveyard to the center of our village, as it was quaintly called. Once in a while I marched in the parade as a Girl Scout, but that was not what made the fourth big in my eyes.

The real party was held at our tiny club, The Wilton Riding Club. The riding club, or “the club” as we all called it was a bucolic swim and tennis club, which also had horse back riding as a side activity. The club had a barn where parties were held with an attached snack bar. In the world of clubs it was less than a junior varsity place, but one we loved.

Growing up every kid knew every family who belonged to the club. It was a small group. We had a day camp and a swim team so all the kids spent all day everyday at the club. We ran wild as our parents literally dropped us off before eight in the morning and reluctantly picked us up sometime after four or five.

As a little kid, less than nine or ten a parent might hire an older kid, like an eleven year old to keep an eye on you during the day, between camp and swim team, but once you hit double digits most parents let us run wild all summer. Sometimes parents were around, playing tennis or eating lunch at the snack bar, but mostly the club was kid heaven.

A photo of the riding club today looks exactly the same as it did in 1970

The Fourth of July was the only day of the summer when kids and grown up alike were all at the club. The day started with an intra club swim meet with fun additions to the normal fare like family team relays and a greased pig contest. That was when a Crisco covered watermelon was thrown into the pool and people vied to try and get it out of the pool, thus claiming ownership and the title. There was also a tennis tournament, but kids were not part of that activity as the serious players whacked balls across those red clay courts.

As evening approached people changed into red, white and blue preppy clothes and we had a big picnic on the lawn in front of the party barn. Wilton was a dry town then, which meant the club could not sell liquor, so members brought their own bottles and left them on the bar with their name written on the label

The Fourth of July was one of the only events where members of all ages would gather together. My father named the “old” people the “porch members”, because they only sat on the porch of the barn and drank and talked. I laugh now because I am the age that the porch members were then and as a kid I thought they were ancient.

One of the highlights of the Fourth of July were the family games, egg toss, three legged race and the like. I felt like I was at a distinct advantage because I had a young Athletic father and we did well in those games.

As the evening went on, fried chicken and potato salad was put out for dinner and the kids were relegated to eating on the lawn so the adults could sit at tables on the porch and in the barn. I think many porch members never ate, as drinking was the main sport they engaged in.

As darkness engulfed the club and the fireflies made themselves known the exhaustion of the day took kids out one by one. It was a big long day of family fun. It was the kind of scene that inspired Ralph Lauren ads for years and he certainly never came to the riding club.

As we celebrate a quiet Fourth of July here today, better than last year’s lock down, it will never be anything close to the fourth’s of my childhood. I can close my eyes and see the Hurdman, Clough, MacClea, Lawson, Heeks, Shipman, Hesse, Conrad, Vartabedian, Martin, Perry, Cowie, McLean, Colina families and so many others all dressed up on the lawn at the club year after year. It was one big happy family, it was a happy birthday to America for us kids. One I will always cherish.

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