The Fourth of July has hasn't been the same since it left the porch for the parking lot.

They used to have a pretty nice thing down on MacArthus Boulevard. As soon after 11 o'clock as everyone was ready, people would line up on their porches, rockers all in a row, beer crans balanced on the railings, and the kids would be sitting on the curb in front of the MacArthur Theater and the Safeway and Our Lady of victory church.

And the parade would came by.

There were a lot of kids on decorated bikes. There were homemade floats on pickup trucks, and daddies in clown costumes, and decorated wagons being pulled by decorated dogs panting with mortification. And some years we had a band put together by summer students at Western High, and finally, always, the fire trucks from the MacArthur substation with the firemen all in their iron hats and the sirens growing and the engines muttering hugely in low-low gear.

This year there is some sort of organized picnic for the Fourth. You have to buy tickets, and there's a Dixieland band and various kinds of enterainment.It's probably a benefit, but it still sounds commercial.

Anyway it's not the way it was.

The first ones I remember were on the wide white porch of the Sadaquada Golf Club, where everyone sat in wickerback rockers or chased around the first tee in the gathering darkness and waited for the fireworks.

Usually they were set off from beside the pond halfway down the first hole. We would shoot up ours and then watch the display from the Yahnundasis Club across the valley. They said the Yahnundasis was formed by people who couldn't get into the Sadaquada. It fireworks were always better than ours.

One summer we went to a big family party at the vast old summer place near Alder Creek in the Adirondacks. It has a porch that ran clear around it, and on rainy afternoons you could ride your bike or rollerskate round and round and round. A dozen kids on rollerskates made a terrific roaring on those old deek boards.

That year we had the traditional baseball game: Everybody got to bat, from small boys full of ice cream bars to grannies who used a onehanded grip on a special bat made from a table leg, and the outfield was crawling with people. Then Gilbert Butler, 7 feet tall, all knees and elbows and white hair, paraded across the sprawling lawn in an Uncle Sam suit with all the kids hilariously tumbling after.

The years we didn't go out, we had the Fourt of July on the farm at Clinton, my father and I nervously lighting things on the lawn, my sisters holding their ears and my mother watching from the porch. One year we used a piece of rain gutter to launch the biggest rocket, but it was pointed too high and spiraled off into the asparagus.

In Washington, when the children were here, we set off a few fountains and showers in the back yard while the dog hid under the porch. One particular flagstone is still black from the snakes.

Last year we had some friends over. We waved a few sparklers and then tried to see the city fireworks, which we couldn't. So we just sat on the porch and talked and watched the fireflies. It was lovely.