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Andi’s Journal, July 4, 1889, Fresno, California
The morning of the Fourth has dawned bright and blistering. The sky is a wide expanse of blue with not a cloud in sight. A perfect day for the celebration in town. And we get to part of that . . . in our very own float!
Riley was up early helping Joey, Matt, and Carlos with the morning chores before dismissing his hired men for the day. Then he brought the buckboard wagon from the barn and brushed Ranger and Buster till their coats shone as bright as the streamers in the sunlight.
Andi couldn’t help smiling as she plaited her long, dark hair and coiled the braid into a neat bun at the nape of her neck. She wrapped her peach pie in dishtowels and set it in a wicker basket, ready to go. A couple of sandwiches, a canteen of water, and a jar of Mother’s canned applesauce joined the pie.
Andi spared a quick glance at all the food items she’d packed and gave a satisfied nod. I think that’s everything. Our lunch, a snack for Jared, and a light supper.
With that decided, Andi hastened to scramble some eggs for their sunrise breakfast and dress Jared in a fresh change of clothes. They left for town as soon as breakfast was over. Jared sat in Riley’s lap and yelled “giddup” to Buster, who tossed his head and picked up his pace along the curving foothills road.
Andi beamed as the horse clip-clopped onto the flat valley road. The streamers blew out behind the rig. “I hope the decorations are firmly attached,” she remarked. Riley nodded and kept driving. Andi smirked as she watched one of the streamers flap. We’ll show that ol’ Chad that making a float was a marvelous idea all along.
As it turned out, she was able to stab this at big brother sooner than she thought she would. She shaded her eyes. Sure enough, a surrey carrying Mother, Chad, Ellie, and little Susie pulled out of the long Circle C driveway as they trotted past.
When Chad saw the buggy, his eyebrows rose but he said nothing. Ellie, however, gushed over the decorations and declared their float would be the prettiest in the whole parade.
“It’ll attract attention, all right, and the heat too,” Chad replied. “Hope you’re ready for this, little sister.”
Andi ignored Chad and squeezed Riley’s hand. She already knew she was ready for this, and nothing could dim her joy.
It was still early when the Prescotts’ decorated buggy and the Carters’ undecorated surrey pulled into town. Since the procession wasn’t scheduled to begin till half past ten o’clock, Andi and Riley had a bit of time to take Jared for a walk and show him the festive decorations, the other floats, and some of the horses. Riley tied their rig near the the spot where the parade would begin. As one of the first to show up, he snagged the spot that would assure them of their place just behind the grand marshal of the parade atop his large, white horse.
Andi hopped down, and the little family strolled down the boardwalk. She frowned slightly at the unbridled activity all around her. Children of all ages ran to and fro, their hands full of firecrackers and other fireworks. Andi had never thought about it before, for sure not when she was a little girl. She always fumed when Mother did not let her run wild through the town streets with the others. Bangs, pops, and shrieking had always kept Mother’s hand tightly enclosed around Andi’s sweaty one.
Now, however, she understood and kept a tight hold on her son. He would not be running off at age six or seven, waving firecrackers over his head and throwing them. Indeed not! What a simply horrid, dangerous idea! What were those other mothers thinking?
Andi’s breath caught as a small flash of red, white, and blue passed her. What in the world? A little boy not much older than Jared hurried down the street. One arm clutched dangerous-looking fireworks as big as sticks of dynamite! His other hand was wrapped securely around a flag. Where was his mother?
Then, a sudden ka-boom and a scream whipped Andi’s attention from the toddler and confirmed her decision to keep Jared close. One of the Stevens boys raced past. His fingers were red and bloody. Tears streamed down his cheeks.
Silly, foolish boy. And certainly a careless mother to let her boy run around and blow things up. She silently thanked God that Mother had been cautious. But why? Had Chad or Mitch been in a fireworks accident as young boys? Hmm, she would have to ask them.
Jared observed everything with wide hazel eyes. He waved and called out to almost everyone they passed, his blond hair blowing and his sailor suit rumpled in the hot, mid-morning breeze. When they passed Goodwins Mercantile, Mr. Goodwin handed Jared a small flag. He squealed and clutched the flag in his free hand.
“Happy birthday, little man,” Andi breathed, leaning down to kiss his round, dimpled cheek. Had it really been two years since she’d birthed this sweet baby? She shook her head. Jared was growing up much too quickly.
Finally, it was time to head back to the buggy, before they lost their place in the procession. Sure enough, buggies and wagons stretched out behind their float for two or three blocks. Way down at the end, Andi could make out the fire department’s hose and ladder wagon. They always came last and delighted the crowd of onlookers with cool water.
Andi clasped Riley’s hand and swung up into the buggy. Then he passed her Jared, and they were ready to go. A quick glance just behind her showed the two peach pies were safely secured in wicker baskets, covered with cloths to keep away the ever-present flies.
Andi squeezed Riley’s arm and pulled her hat farther down over her face. Sudden nervousness twisted her belly. Neither she nor Riley had ever done anything like this before. Riley had plenty of experience guiding a team of horses, but they lived on a quiet ranch way out of town. What if today Buster became frazzled from the unusual commotion? What if something went terribly wrong? Boy, would Chad ever laugh and say “I told you so!”
However, Andi’s fears proved groundless when the procession started out. They followed smoothly behind the grand marshal, and a variety of other wagons, buggies, and even a surrey or two trailed along behind. Andi waved, nodded, and smiled at the massive gathering of townsfolk that made up the crowd. They pressed in on the parade from all sides. Jared waved his small flag, gathering smiles as they drove past.
The heat quickly settled in around them. Andi grew sticky with sweat. At least they weren’t driving under the blazing July sun. The decorated buggy cover was a nice touch. She cuddled Jared and waved when old friends shouted, “Howdy, Andi!” Maybe it wasn’t quite polite for a married woman to be addressed in such a fashion, but a warm glow settled around her. These were her friends. Fresno was her town. And for the first time in her life, she was riding in the parade rather than just watching it from under awnings on the boardwalk.
The crowds thickened as time wore on. Buster trotted along, slow and steady. Once or twice he tossed his head and whinnied unhappily, but a quiet word from Riley calmed the horse almost immediately.
Andi’s arm hurt from all the waving she’d done, and her throat tickled. She needed something to drink. Hmm, the picnic basket and the full canteen are sitting next to the wicker baskets of pies. Maybe I can reach around and grab it.
“Thirsty, Mama,” Jared whimpered. That settled it. She definitely needed that canteen. Keeping a firm hold on Jared, Andi twisted around in her seat. Just then, out of the corner of her eye, a tiny figure caught her attention. A little girl about Jared’s age was holding a small, lit sparkler. To Andi’s horror, the child scampered into the street, heading straight for—
“Riley!” Andi was snapped back against the buggy seat. Jared wailed. The horse, startled by the sight of the tiny child’s sudden appearance right in front of him, rose up on his hind legs. Then he came down, whinnying his fear. The sparkler increased Buster’s agitation. He broke into a gallop before Andi could catch her breath. “Slow down!”
Riley’s hazel eyes widened at Buster’s sudden scare. He was the calmest of horses most days, but the popping, shrieking, and explosions had clearly set him on edge. The little girl’s sparkler was the cap, and Buster clearly had had enough. Off he went. Without Riley’s say-so and ignoring the command to take it easy, Buster swerved around the grand marshal and took off. Bystanders cleared the way, and other vehicles pulled to a stop to allow the horse passage.
“Steady!” The grand marshal spurred his horse to the side and tried to keep order. The rest of the procession stayed calm and orderly. Fresno did not need a multi-buggy and wagon pile up.
Heat burned Andi’s cheeks. They had nearly run down the grand marshal of the Fourth of July parade and caused a horrible accident. She squeezed her eyes shut. Please, God, keep everybody safe!
Andi and Riley traveled at a wild pace for several blocks. Streamers whipped out from behind the buggy. The wind tore them off. The fabric from the wheels followed a few seconds later. Buster’s harness lost its wrapping. Gulping, Andi realized they might lose their buggy cover. No!
Then Andi spotted a familiar sight, a horse and rider galloping toward them. Mitch. All at once Andi remembered big brother asking to borrow Shasta for the race later that day, and relief washed through her. If anyone could catch up and help Riley get control over Buster, it was Mitch on Shasta. Oh, hurry!
She glanced back and watched as more of their gorgeous streamers flew away. The crepe paper streamers settled to ground, leaving a trail of paper and cloth blowing in the wind. The breeze sent runaway wisps of dark hair swirling across Andi’s face. She ignored it and gripped Jared tighter. After the initial surprise, he didn’t cry out. He clapped his hands and said, “Daddy go fast!”
When the rider drew closer, Andi gasped. It wasn’t Mitch but Chad who straddled Shasta. Grim-faced and determined, her brother reached over and grabbed Ranger’s halter. “Whoa, boy.” He pulled hard. Sides shuddering, the horse slowed down then stopped entirely.
Andi couldn’t get to the ground fast enough. Hugging Jared, she leaned against the wagon and gulped in several deep breaths. Chad dismounted and came over. No grins, no teasing winks. He looked afraid . . . just a little, anyway . . . and relieved.
“I would take this opportunity to say ‘I told you so,’” Chad said, “especially as I see your flustered face and sweaty hair. But . . .” A weak smile curved his lips. “I’m afraid Susie was the one who caused your horse to bolt. She slipped away from Ellie, and before I could grab her, she was in the street and . . .” He paused, clearly shook up. “I’m sorry.”
The breath left Andi’s lungs in a whoosh. She gaped at her brother. “Chad Aaron Carter! You let your little girl hold a lit—” Her words broke off, and she shook her head, too shaken to put her thoughts together enough to finish the sentence.
Riley approached then, holding their picnic basket. “Look at it this way, Andi. We’re all safe, the buggy is undamaged, God spared Susie from being run over, and your pie made it through the whole ordeal.” He held it up and grinned. “Like your mother is fond of saying, ‘All’s well that ends well.’”
Andi couldn’t help it. She giggled. “You’re right.”
So what if the procession didn’t go exactly how she had imagined it would? Riley spoke the truth. They were all unharmed and smiling. Susie was safe. And now they had a warm peach pie to eat. She gave Chad a quick hug, forgiving him. “Say, how would you, Ellie, and Mother like to share our pies?”
Chad grinned, clearly happy at how his sister had responded to this near disaster. “We would, very much. Thanks.” In one smooth motion, he mounted Shasta and tipped his hat. “See you back in town.”
Lest you think I’m making this up, young children waved around and played with all sorts of dangerous fireworks during the 1800s. How does Mrs. M know this? She found vintage postcards of authentic Fourth of July celebrations from the Victorian Age (mid-1800s to the early 1900s). Take a peek at these six picture-postcards below and see how our American ancestors allowed their children to celebrate the Fourth of July.
Note: Picture #3 could be Jared in his cute little sailor suit waving a stick of dynamite over his head. Just . . . wow!