Fourth of July memories: Family, food and fireworks

Some years, the King family has watched the fireworks show in downtown Decatur. CONTRIBUTED BY DECATUR VISITORS CENTER
Some years, the King family has watched the fireworks show in downtown Decatur. CONTRIBUTED BY DECATUR VISITORS CENTER

When I was a boy, the Fourth of July always was a special day for me — possibly because my mother, a WWII war bride from the U.K., had chosen to be an American citizen, or maybe because I always had been fascinated by Revolutionary War history.

Or, perhaps, it was because I had my very own Fourth of July parade.

Writer Bill King, seen in the doorway of his childhood clubhouse in the backyard of his family’s home on Hope Avenue in Athens, was the organizer of the street’s Fourth of July parades in the 1960s. CONTRIBUTED BY THE KING FAMILY
Writer Bill King, seen in the doorway of his childhood clubhouse in the backyard of his family’s home on Hope Avenue in Athens, was the organizer of the street’s Fourth of July parades in the 1960s. CONTRIBUTED BY THE KING FAMILY

I'm not sure what prompted me to start an Independence Day parade, but it probably was because Atlanta's Channel 2 televised an annual parade.

The folks on Hope Avenue in Athens, where we lived, always commented in bemused wonder that it was the sons of the street’s British-born resident who organized the Fourth of July parade. But, to me, it made perfect sense: We weren’t just marking the anniversary of America’s independence, we were celebrating our heritage and the fact that our nation was founded by a bunch of British expatriates (like my mom).

Anyway, a few days before the holiday, my brother Jonathan and I would start cajoling neighborhood kids into participating. The parade varied from year to year, but there were two musts: One was me and two other kids re-creating the famous painting of a Revolutionary War trio consisting of a drummer, fife player and flag bearer. My mother liked to recount how, when my dad was taking down the attic fan and a piece of wood clobbered Mom in the forehead, I informed her that the old sheet she had me grab out of the linen closet to stanch the bleeding would make the perfect authentic head bandage for me in the next Fourth of July parade. And, so, it did, for several years in fact.

The King brothers recruited neighborhood kids for the Hope Avenue Fourth of July parade in Athens’ Five Points area. Seen in this rather timeworn shot from the early 1960s are (from left) Gary Gordon, Bill King, Jonathan King and Chip Condon. CONTRIBUTED BY THE KING FAMILY
The King brothers recruited neighborhood kids for the Hope Avenue Fourth of July parade in Athens’ Five Points area. Seen in this rather timeworn shot from the early 1960s are (from left) Gary Gordon, Bill King, Jonathan King and Chip Condon. CONTRIBUTED BY THE KING FAMILY

The other standard part of our parade was a Miss Liberty “float” consisting of whatever young girl we could talk into putting on a crown, holding a torch (made from a cardboard paper towel tube and construction paper) and riding in a little red wagon pulled by one of the “volunteers.”

One year, I got my friend Farris, who didn’t even live in our neighborhood, to participate, and his little sister Madeline was Miss Liberty (complete with fairy princess gown). Farris’ dad, a University of Georgia professor, walked backward in front of the parade, shooting 8 mm movie footage.

The pulled pork from Decatur’s Community Q is a highlight of the King family’s Fourth of July meal. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVIA KING
The pulled pork from Decatur’s Community Q is a highlight of the King family’s Fourth of July meal. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVIA KING

After our parade, Dad would grill hamburgers and hot dogs, and Mom would make her potato salad, which wasn’t heavily seasoned like some — just potato, hard-boiled egg, mayo, salt and pepper, though she dressed it up with crunchy chunks of raw carrot “for color.” It was great when served warm.

Through the years, the Fourth remained a family favorite among holidays, perhaps because we all loved hamburgers, hot dogs, barbecue (which became our chosen menu topper as we got older) and … fireworks! Every Fourth of July evening, we’d sit out on the golf course where my father played, to watch the fireworks extravaganza, and then sit in the car to watch the city’s fireworks show at a nearby park.

In recent years, writer Bill King’s family has celebrated Independence Day with takeout from Decatur’s Community Q, including the restaurant’s famous mac and cheese. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVIA KING
In recent years, writer Bill King’s family has celebrated Independence Day with takeout from Decatur’s Community Q, including the restaurant’s famous mac and cheese. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVIA KING

We continued that tradition even after my wife Leslie and I had two kids of our own: The Fourth meant barbecue in Athens with Grandma and Papa, and then fireworks. Some years, we'd go to a pre-fireworks buffet at their country club, but most years, my dad would pick up some barbecue in the surrounding small towns — Zeb's in Danielsville, Hot Thomas in Watkinsville or Fresh Air in Bogart. My daughter Olivia remembers her grandmother always using a picnic-themed tablecloth decorated with hot dogs and ketchup bottles.

Among the Community Q fare enjoyed by the King family are pulled pork, ribs, mac and cheese, coleslaw and black-eyed peas, with a side of Brunswick stew. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVIA KING
Among the Community Q fare enjoyed by the King family are pulled pork, ribs, mac and cheese, coleslaw and black-eyed peas, with a side of Brunswick stew. CONTRIBUTED BY OLIVIA KING

For several years, Leslie, the kids and I also would participate in a lunchtime celebration in our Decatur area neighborhood. The folks on Faraday Place had been holding it since 1962, and the fare usually was hot dogs, chips, cookies, frozen pops, ice cream sandwiches and maybe a flag cake. There also were pre-meal games for the kids, including the egg relay, water balloons, etc. A couple of years, there was music by a band featuring somebody’s grown daughter.

Olivia King (left) and friend Emily Falco prepare to participate in the 2002 Fourth of July parade on the streets of the Pine Glen neighborhood in DeKalb County. CONTRIBUTED BY THE KING FAMILY
Olivia King (left) and friend Emily Falco prepare to participate in the 2002 Fourth of July parade on the streets of the Pine Glen neighborhood in DeKalb County. CONTRIBUTED BY THE KING FAMILY

And, harking back to my childhood, there always was a parade, featuring kids on bikes and scooters, as well as in strollers. Olivia participated a couple of times, with her scooter beribboned in the national colors. Unfortunately, the celebration ended in 2014 after 52 years — too many of the organizers had moved away.

Among the more memorable Fourth of July celebrations for members of writer Bill King’s family was the 2012 gathering at the White House, attended by his son Bill, who was working in Washington at the time. CONTRIBUTED BY WILLIAM T. KING
Among the more memorable Fourth of July celebrations for members of writer Bill King’s family was the 2012 gathering at the White House, attended by his son Bill, who was working in Washington at the time. CONTRIBUTED BY WILLIAM T. KING

At home, Leslie sometimes would make a cake decorated with white icing, peppermint sticks and cherries to look like a military drum, and, some years, we wound up watching fireworks in downtown Decatur.

As the kids got older, Olivia running the Peachtree Road Race became part of our Fourth routine. And, in 2012, when he was working in Washington, our son Bill got to attend the White House celebration, complete with a Brad Paisley concert.

Todd Wilkes (right) grills hot dogs for one of the Faraday Place Fourth of July celebrations, with Trey Weathers (left) manning the second grill. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS BRINSON
Todd Wilkes (right) grills hot dogs for one of the Faraday Place Fourth of July celebrations, with Trey Weathers (left) manning the second grill. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS BRINSON

We’ve even celebrated the Fourth while visiting abroad, with my British cousin Lizzy and her family showing they were good losers by feting our national holiday in 2014 with hamburgers and a red, white and blue sign made by her daughter.

Chris Brinson rides his bicycle in the parade kicking off the 50th annual Fourth of July festivities in the Pine Glen neighborhood near Decatur in 2012, with his son Nicholas in the red helmet in front of him. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS BRINSON
Chris Brinson rides his bicycle in the parade kicking off the 50th annual Fourth of July festivities in the Pine Glen neighborhood near Decatur in 2012, with his son Nicholas in the red helmet in front of him. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS BRINSON

In recent years, the Fourth has meant my brother Tim joining us for takeout from Decatur's Community Q, including pulled pork, ribs, Brunswick stew, and traditional sides, including black-eyed peas with rosemary and bacon, and an order of their deservedly famous mac and cheese.

Children’s games and relays were a pre-lunch part of the Faraday Place Fourth of July celebration that ran for 52 years in the Pine Glen neighborhood in greater Decatur. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS BRINSON
Children’s games and relays were a pre-lunch part of the Faraday Place Fourth of July celebration that ran for 52 years in the Pine Glen neighborhood in greater Decatur. CONTRIBUTED BY CHRIS BRINSON

And, yes, there are still fireworks, once the sun has gone down, set off down the street by an Indian family … which somehow seems extremely fitting to me, the son of an immigrant!

Bill King is a retired writer-editor for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He can be reached at junkyardblawg@gmail.com.

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