Published in the Rains County Leader on July 6, 2020:
I loved the Fourth of July when I was a kid. We lived inside the city limits where the authorities frowned on the fun stuff like roasting hot dogs and marshmallows over a bon fire and shooting off fireworks. So we usually celebrated Independence Day at Aunt Fay’s. In addition to the fire-roasted treats, the menu also included potato salad, chips, watermelon, iced tea, Kool-Aid, and home churned ice cream. In later years when Uncle Dean bought the first charcoal grill I had ever seen, hamburgers were added.
While the adults prepared the food, the seven kids (me, my brother, and our five cousins) ran around Fay and Dean’s unfenced acreage, making noise and getting dirty. Sometimes we visited the food site to grab a chip or take turns sitting on the ice cream churn. By the time dinner was ready, we needed no prompting to come and eat. Everything was always delicious – food always tastes better when eaten outside on paper plates and sprinkled with a little bit of dirt.
Of course, the highlight of the evening was the fireworks. We didn’t go to an extravagant pyrotechnic show. Instead, we walked to the fireworks stand at the corner where we pooled our coins and made our choices. We focused mainly on fire crackers, both because they were cheap and because we were allowed to light them ourselves. There were always a few singed fingers because of stubborn fuses that resisted the matches or burns when some brave soul tried the hold, light and throw maneuver and was slow on the last part.
The adults sometimes joined the fun, buying sparklers for those too timid for firecrackers and a few Roman candles for a big finale. The candles where usually stuck into a hole the ground or a pipe rigged for the occasion, but one year Aunt Fay decided she wanted to hold one while it went off. I remember her holding that long cylinder straight out in front of her and squealing every time another colorful ball of fire burst out of the other end – and I thought it was the bravest thing I had ever seen.
My son Christian’s memories of the Fourth may not be as favorable as mine. When he was small, his cousins lived in another state – but we lived in a small townhome community where most of the residents had young children, so he had lots of playmates. One Fourth we planned a big community celebration that would last most of the afternoon. If memory serves, there was a Frisbee golf tournament followed by a children’s parade around the greenbelt and then a cookout by the pool.
When parade time arrived, an astonishing array of bikes, trikes, wagons, and big wheels
lined up, all decorated with flags and miles of crepe paper streamers – and then it began to rain. The show must go on, though, so moms and dads yelled encouragement as little legs pedaled as fast they could along the sidewalk toward the clubhouse. Judging for the best entry took place quickly, and Christian won the grand prize. I’m not sure exactly how the choice was made – maybe he had the most soggy crepe paper hanging from the handlebars of his tricycle.
In later years, we took him to one of the big fireworks displays, but he was not impressed. Oh, he loved the colors of the “bombs bursting in air,” but the noise terrified him and the smoke made it hard for him to breathe. The next year we tried something different. This was before urban sprawl had reached the Dallas suburb where we lived, so we took our van – all the young up and coming couples had one – and found a hill with an unobstructed view. We took a picnic supper, climbed onto the roof, and watched the fireworks displays of several surrounding suburbs. We could see all the flash and color without the smoke and noise. It was one of my favorite Fourths, and I hope it was one of his.
This year the Fourth was pretty much of a non-event at our house. Even though Mom, Dad and Uncle Dean are all celebrating a greater freedom in Heaven, and all the cousins are grown with children and grandchildren of their own, we still usually spend holidays with Aunt Fay. But I have hesitated to go and visit, just in case one of us is an unwitting COVID carrier, so we had hot dogs and potato salad at home and watched old western movies all afternoon.
Aunt Fay still had a holiday celebration, though. Candis and Charlie, one of her granddaughters and grandsons-in-love, brought hot dogs, chili and fireworks. Aunt Fay has a lot more acreage than she did all those years ago. In addition to the big house that is often filled with family and fun, she has a lodge that is set up for retreats, meetings and other gatherings. In the interest of minimizing exposure or because Charlie wanted to see if there were any fish in the pond behind it – or both – Candis and Charlie stayed at the lodge and MeeMaw (or Meems) came over for dinner.
Candis loves to take pictures and share them, so the first I knew of their small celebration was Sunday morning when I saw a video of Aunt Fay once again holding fireworks in her hand. This time she was standing on the deck of the lodge overlooking the pond and holding a sparkler – and she was singing My Country Tis of Thee. She stumbled over the last couple of lines, but being an experienced church soloist, she covered nicely and ended with “let freedom ring” as she lifted the sparkler high in the air. I thought it was one of the most encouraging things I’ve seen in a while. At a time when many people are literally tearing down the history of the United States and criticizing the principles on which this country was founded, it’s heartening to know that many still believe.