Posted by Amy Johnson Crow on July 3, 2014 in Holidays, In The Community
Fireworks, 2010. Photo by Amy Crow.
Fireworks, 2010. Photo by Amy Crow.


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!



Amy Johnson Crow

Amy Johnson Crow is a Certified Genealogist and an active lecturer and author. Her roots run deep in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states. She earned her Masters degree in Library and Information Science at Kent State University. Amy loves to help people discover the joys of learning about their ancestors and she thinks that there are few things better than a day in a cemetery. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Amy Johnson Crow.


  1. These are great memories, Amy! When I was a kid, my family would pile into my Dad’s old blue pick-up truck and head to Chandler, AZ for the Fourth. I remember laying in the flat bed of that truck, the metal ridges of it’s surface digging into my back, and watching the night sky light up above me. Hands down, those were the best firework shows I’ve ever seen.

  2. Glenna Boswell

    Your Thurs Thowbacks are my way of writing my own story of memories of whatever your theme is.

    The 4th of July in my small home town was a memorable occasion. The population of this tiny town was about 1000 people, but on the 4th of July it grew to sometimes several thousands of people from all over. Sweet cherries were ripe and sweet at this time of summer, and the town hosted a Cherry Festival – parade, queen, carnival, picnic at the park and fireworks and dance at night.

    The parade lined up for several blocks before the one main street, then followed the main street lined with people waving to their family members and friends participating. You had to go early if you wanted a good place to sit on the curb or place your chair. The parade turned north at the end of main street and followed several blocks, lined with additional visitors from all over, and ended at the City Park.

    Class reunions are still held on the 4th of July. Class floats – which usually are a flat wagon with bales of hay to sit on – then on to the park where each class has a designated a spot for their class to meet, visit, and usually eat. Past teachers roam around visiting with their students of years ago.

    The queen a high school student, chosen by popularity, when I grew up, rode with her attendants in a convertible with its top down.

    Arts and crafts, food, clothing and other type booths were set up at the park and the crowd gathered there to roam around, ride the carnival rides, taste the many foods whose aromas filled the air. There was usually a musical group that performed on a raised platform sometime during the afternoon.

    Our family usually gathered at one of our relatives for a barbeque with salads, drinks and desserts. As a kid I loved the carnival, the cotton candy and the fireworks at night. In just two years my plan is to go back to my 60th class reunion and ride on those bales of hay and wave to friends and family still in the area. My class mates are more like family because of the class being so small, and it is great to spend the afternoon catching up on the years that have passed so quickly. – Not sure who all those people with gray hair and wrinkles are that somehow seem familiar, but certainly couldn’t be those young whipper snappers I grew up with!

  3. Amy Johnson Crow

    Brittni — There is something cool about watching fireworks from the bed of a pickup truck!

    Glenna — Sounds like your July Fourths were filled to the brim with fun! So glad that you’re using the Throwback Thursdays to write your own stories!

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