While scrolling through Facebook the other day, I saw a friend post about how she loved one of the traditions we had in our small town — the Fourth of July weekend Firemen’s Field Days.
“Maybe I live under a rock, but I don’t know of any places around me that celebrate the fourth like that,” the now-Capital District/Hudson Valley region resident said. “It was always a weekend-long celebration with fun and games, dunk tanks, face painting, lots of food and entertainment at our firemen’s field, which is basically a very small fairground ... of course ending with fireworks.”
Oh, those fireworks were something.
People would come from counties far away to see our town’s fireworks. In the mid-1980s, I saw then-Binghamton Mayor Juanita Crabb among the throngs of people. The parking lots on the field were full, as was the overflow parking on the neighboring school grounds.
It’s no surprise the event drew such a large crowd. The fireworks show was always set up by the members of the fire department, but they had an ace in the hole. They were helped and trained by Academy Award winning special effects artist Gary Zeller, who lived in town.
I remember thinking as a kid the show was amazing and went on forever.
There were also always things for kids to do. There were three rides meant for the little ones — cars, boats and swings. I’m sure I spent plenty of time there. A mini-golf course and arcade were staples for the older kids. There were always folks waiting in line for the dunk tank.
There were also games — a ring toss, basketball hoops and balloon popping. For adults, there was bingo.
The food couldn’t be missed either. Hot dogs, hamburgers, fresh-cut fires, soda and, of course cotton candy. Chicken, clams and beer were must-haves for the adults.
Bands played both days.
In my teenage years, the field days were an important fundraiser for the high school classes. The sophomore class would earn money helping out running games, sending mailers, parking cars, and basically whatever the firefighters said was needed.
But the biggest reason the event holds a special place in my heart is that is where I got engaged. My now-husband had been a member of the fire department for a couple years and he convinced the guys setting up the fireworks to create a sign: “Deni, will you marry me?” My family was there (including my dad from Florida), and my mom gave Mike her ring to present to me. Of course, I said “yes.” Seriously, how many people can say they were proposed to in fireworks? Not that many I’d guess.
It wasn’t all happy that night. My cousin was hurt while setting off the show. He was rushed to the emergency room with severe injuries to his face. (He did recover.) One of the Delaware County weekly newspapers was there to cover the engagement (one of my best friend’s uncles owned the now-defunct Register & Review). I still have copies of that newspaper, which carried the headline “Tenderness and Tragedy” (or something like that).
The field days continued for a few more years, with pros setting off the fireworks after the accident, but attendance dwindled, and finding folks to dedicate so much time was more and more difficult.
After more than a decade break, it came back a few years ago — but not in the same form.
The kiddie rides and mini-golf are gone, as are some of the buildings. It’s no longer held Independence Day weekend.
But the chicken, clams and beer are still there. The dunk tank is back. And, of course there will be fireworks.
The addition of a demolition derby is a huge change this year. I can’t wait to see how this weekend turns out. My friend is now looking to bring a bit of her Downsville summer memories to her new town. I wish her luck.
It’s good to have memories, and it’s sad to see traditions change. But change is necessary to survive.
I’m excited to see what new memories can be made.
Denielle Cazzolla is editor of The Daily Star. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7259. Follow her at @DS_DenielleC on Twitter.