The Rockwood Files: Fourth of July parade of memories

By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3

Every holiday has its perks. But the Fourth of July is perhaps the best one when it comes to the wild ride it offers the senses.

The Fourth of July gives you the taste of blackened sear marks on a plump hot dog fresh off the backyard grill.

As you devour hot dogs and cool watermelon, you feel July’s heat penetrate down through your skin and muscle until it seems as if even your bones are baking in sunshine.

As evening approaches, the smoke bombs’ smell hangs in the air. You hear the hiss of a firecracker’s fuse as the orange spark zips toward its anticipated pop.

Then the night sky explodes into a million points of light – fiery orange, shocking pink, vibrant purple. As the explosion fades, trails of smoke mark the flight of each blazing rocket.

More than any other holiday, the Fourth is alive and buzzing with intensity. What I love most about it is how rich it is in memories – both historical and personal. When I was a little girl, my family celebrated the day by driving to a man-made lake and water park about an hour from home. This large lake was filled with diving boards, a rolling log, slides and floating platforms to keep the holiday crowds entertained in the cool, green lake water.

My favorite part of the park was the toboggan ride perched at the water’s edge. Dad and I would grab what looked like a wide skateboard and climb the steps leading to the top of the ride. Once we reached the high platform, Dad would put the rolling board on the metal track, holding it steady as I climbed on. He’d climb on behind me, securing me on the board with his bent legs. With a “Ready, Set, GO!” he’d push off from the platform, sending us racing down the steep metal track.

The 30-foot roller coaster ride on land was fun but it was nothing compared to what waited for us at the bottom. When the metal track leveled out and stopped at the water’s edge, we’d fly across the lake like a smooth, flat stone – skipping and bumping on the surface as far as we could go before losing the tug-of-war with gravity. Then the cool water enveloped us once more.

We’d laugh and celebrate a new record when we skipped farther across the lake. Then I’d float on the wooden board while Dad guided us back to shore – my own paternal tug boat.

After a day in the water, we’d head toward the largest fireworks show in the state’s capital on the banks of the Arkansas River. Small lights cast a soft glow over boats floating near the shore, gliding closer so they’d have the best view when the fireworks started overhead.

My brother and I would ask Mom and Dad at least a dozen times if the fireworks would start soon, anxious to get on with the show. Then that first “BOOM” would startle and delight us, followed by 20 minutes of a collective “oooh” and “aaaahhh!”

After the final burst of light faded to darkness, we’d climb back into our wood-paneled station wagon and head for home, smelling of Coppertone sunblock and Off mosquito spray. Do holidays get any better than that?

To those who serve or have served – and to their families who help make their service possible – your love of country allows each of us to celebrate freedom every day. We’re humbled and grateful. Happy Fourth of July.

Gwen Rockwood is a mom to three great kids, wife to one cool guy, a newspaper columnist and co-owner of To read previously published installments of The Rockwood Files, click here.