By Suzanne Sparrow Watson
Last week I received two phone calls that saddened me. Not in any big way – no deaths or illnesses, just to put it in perspective, but sad nonetheless. The first was from a friend visiting grandchildren. He lamented that the kids were bored and depressed. Due to the COVID risk in their area they must stay at home, are not allowed to see their friends and if they do venture out with their parents they must wear a mask. He asked me: “What kind of a childhood is this?”. The next day I spoke with a friend who has a home in Lake Tahoe and she told me that the annual 4th of July fireworks display had been cancelled because they did not want large crowds gathering in town. These two calls got me thinking about what it must be like to be a young child during this time, and what the long term repercussions might be. As I think back to my childhood, the 4th of July fireworks at Tahoe were so special that the memory of them still brings a smile to my face.
We spent many weekends during the summer at our place at Tahoe. We would often visit Meeks Bay Resort, a throwback destination that consisted of a wonderful, white sandy beach, an old hotel, an arcade room, snack bar and kayak rentals. The highlight for me was when my dad gave me a nickel to buy popcorn out of the machine on the pier. The bag invariably was filled to the brim and I spilled a good portion of it wending my way back to our spot on the beach. Still…I can remember the smell and the sand in my feet to this day. As I grew older I attended dances at the outdoor pavilion and spent hours on the beach, smothered in baby oil to get a perfect tan. More often that not I was burned to a crisp, a situation that I would recall some 50 years later when I was diagnosed with melanoma. But when you’re young ignorance is bliss.
Most of the time our family went to a local beach on the west shore that was not sandy at all. In fact, we called it Rocky Beach for obvious reasons. The good part was that it was never crowded. But it was never crowded for a reason: you had to sit on lumpy rocks and there was no bathroom. I hate to think of all the pee that went into that pristine lake. And, oh yeah, the water was freezing cold, as it tends to be at Tahoe in early July. It was so cold that if our parents and friends overindulged the night before it required a “quick dip” in the water at Rocky Beach to bring them back to their senses. The photo of me at Rocky Beach shows just how much “fun” it was to wade into the freezing water.
But the highlight of every summer was the 4th of July fireworks at Commons Beach in Tahoe City. The fireworks show has been put on by the fire department every year since the 1930’s. There is nothing quite like seeing the bursting display over the lake, as it produced a mirror image on the water’s reflection. Truly, it was breathtaking. And the advantage of being a kid is that we weren’t the least bit bothered by the loud bangs and soaring rockets that went on for an hour. The first fireworks show I remember was in the mid-50’s and we continued that great tradition until 1972 when the cabin was sold. This photo of our dad, joking around about his “magnificent” physique, was taken in 1971 over 4th of July weekend. To this day, Tahoe fireworks are among my best memories.
Which gets me back to the kids of today. Sure, COVID will end at some point. We will get a vaccine and hopefully we can move on. But who knows when? In the mean time, our young kids are missing school, missing friends and missing out on a summer of making memories that will last a lifetime. This year they missed the 4th of July fireworks all over the country. And the thought of that makes me very sad. Hopefully we can lick this thing quickly so the kids can have some fun and enjoy their carefree days of childhood. After all, we know that soon enough life has a way of getting harder and they will need some wonderful memories to bolster their resilience. Be safe and, like Dash the Wonder Dog, wear a mask!