By John Matonich
I wrote this article a year ago, but given the time of the year, I think it deserves another printing. I hope everyone has the opportunity to celebrate this 4th of July. It has always been a special holiday here in my hometown and given the events that are planned, this year is no exception. If you are in the area, stop and take part in the fun. If you aren’t able to be here, think about coming up and visiting the area next year. You won’t be disappointed.
One of the great things about living in rural areas near small towns is that typically each town has some type of summer festival. This is the time of the year around the 4th of July when a lot of the communities around here in the west end of the UP have their celebration.
My hometown of Bessemer has had a very busy celebration for a long time. It is billed as one of the largest celebrations of the 4th anywhere in the U.P. I am not sure how true that is, but it is a weeklong schedule of events and has activities each day starting a week before July 4th and culminating with a very full day on the 4th. It was always a full week while I was growing up and that hasn’t seemed to change at all.
Events for the week include concerts, heritage remembrances, street dances, pie socials and the list goes on and on. The day of the 4th starts at 6 AM with a special event for me. It is called “Poncho’s Memorial Salute.” For many years my father was in charge of kicking off the day by lighting off a bomb blast at 6 a.m. You can hear it all over town and it signals the day has officially begun. A number of years before he passed, someone on the celebration committee added “Poncho’s Salute” to the printed event sheet. It was more tongue in cheek than anything, but when he passed in 1995, the committee kept the piece on the schedule and added the word “Memorial” to it.
The first year that he wasn’t around to light off the bomb, my two brothers and I did it together in his honor. When I showed up way too early in the morning to set it off, I was amazed that there must have been two dozen people there to watch us do it. I guess the old man had a few fans. My youngest brother continues this tradition by doing the honor each year. It is kind of cool to get on the committee’s website at www.bessemer4th.com and see the salute still listed on the schedule of events. I know Poncho would just shake his head, but it is kind of cool.
The big day goes from the salute to family games and races at the school football field. Besides prizes for the winners, everyone is offered a free ice cream bar. That’s the best participation trophy in my book. A kiddie parade is held in the early afternoon and I can still remember putting streamers on my bike and being a part of it. I also have pictures of my own kids dressed up many years later and being a part of the parade as well. In the early evening, the major parade begins. While there are a lot of really well done floats and displays, there are also a few logging trucks and Harleys who get a chance to show what they have.
The parade ends back at the school football field where another concert is held. This one features our town’s Drum and Bugle Corps, Marty’s Goldenaires. They play until dark when the fireworks display kicks off. It is called “Thunder on the Mountain” as the fireworks are launched from one of the bluffs that seem to surround the town. There will be people for miles parked anywhere they can find a spot to watch the show. It is always something to see.
I am sure every town’s summer festival or celebration is special, but to me, this week long observance of one of our major holidays will always hold a special place in my heart. I can’t wait for the day to see my grandkids dressed up and walking in the kiddie parade.
And that’s the situation as I survey it.