The 4th of July for many American families is a time for cookouts, parades, and fireworks.
While I was growing up, the 4th for my family also meant vacation in northern Michigan. We rented a cabin at Carp Lake, just south of Mackinaw, and it was there that our 4th of July traditions were born. One of the best parts of the day: the whitefish cookout.
There were four cabins where we stayed. Most years, we coordinated our vacation with some family friends my sisters and I called “Uncle Bob” and “Aunt Mabel.” (I think I was 10 before I figured out they weren’t really related to us.) On the 4th, we would have a big cookout with everyone at the camp. (Well, at least the families who wanted to be included.) Someone would make a trip into town to Bell’s Fishery to get a couple of whitefish filets. When I say “filet,” I mean basically an entire side of a fish. These things were huge. In the early afternoon, we’d start the fire so that there would be nice hot embers when it came time to cook.
We had two large cedar planks, each about three feet long, 18 inches wide, and an inch-and-a-half thick. The sides had nails that stuck out about half an inch. When the fire was ready, someone (usually Dad) would lay out the filets on the planks and string them into place with wire. Then he’d lay the planks fish-side down over the fire. The aroma from the fish as it cooked was almost intoxicating. The smoke, the cedar, and the fish all mingled together into a scent that made our mouths water.
What is a 4th of July cookout without side dishes? Mom would make her best-in-the-world potato salad or macaroni salad (sometimes both). Other families would provide additional sides and desserts. One of my favorite memories was the year we got a watermelon that wouldn’t quite fit in the cooler. I found it amusing when Dad put it in the lake under the dock. (It worked!)
As evening approached, we would head into Mackinaw for the fireworks. Since we were “regulars” up there, we knew the best places to park and the best vantage points. Our favorite spot was the lawn of the Lutheran Church. We’d get there early and spread out our blankets. Someone (usually Mom) would stay with the gear while the rest went into “downtown” Mackinaw for the traditional 4th of July ice cream cones. (Don’t worry — we’d take one back to Mom.)
There was one year we deviated from the fireworks plan. Instead of going into town, Dad parked the car at the top of a hill on old US 31 heading into town. On the plus side, we could see the fireworks exploding over the Mackinac Bridge and there were no traffic or parking problems. The downside was that we couldn’t hear the booms. It was a noble experiment, but one we didn’t repeat!
How did you celebrate the 4th of July when you were growing up? Did you watch parades or have block parties? Did you enjoy fireworks? Tell us in the comments below, and be sure to share your stories with your family!