Fireworks


The grass tickling my bare feet, I sat cross-legged with eight or so cousins on my grandparents’ sprawling front lawn. We gazed at the country road, the summer sun warming our backs while we watched the seemingly endless parade of marching bands, vintage cars sounding the occasional AWOOGAH, shiny fire engines causing the heart to race, and homemade floats sponsored by the 4-H, scouting troops, and local churches–their occupants happy to return our waves or throw some candy into our tiny, eager hands.

To our left stood the men in the family, drinking beer and grilling as they shared family anecdotes and complaints about work at the town mine, a thick ribbon of smoke rising from the fireplace between them into a powder-blue sky. Behind us sat the matriarchs, perched on the large, white farmhouse’s porch overlooking their chicks. Secure as only a small child surrounded by loving relatives can feel, I savored my hot dog and creamy potato salad as I balanced the flimsy paper plate on my skinny legs.

After lunch, we kids played Mother May I? and Freeze Tag, fawned over the newest batch of kittens under the porch, and challenged each other to watermelon seed spitting contests. Tired of entertaining ourselves, we commandeered a grown-up to walk downhill with us toward the lakefront where small amusement rides, concession stands, and game tents transformed our simple Main Street into a child-friendly street fair.

As the sun set, we returned uphill to our grandparents’ house. Our pockets were now empty of quarters, our hands full of trinkets and fuzzy stuffed animals, and our tummies satisfied by cotton candy and ice cream. There we burned off our energy, racing each other as we chased lightning bugs with mason jars borrowed from Grandpa. I was lucky, catching four fireflies for a close-up look before I set them free, fascinated as they flickered their way back into the inky darkness.

With two of my cousins, I peeked through the glowing kitchen window. Reassured by the vision of women washing dishes and wrapping leftovers from the day, I listened as they chatted and laughed among themselves. Trying to catch hints of family gossip, my cousins and I giggled until we were shooed away with a smile. Through another window, this time one on the porch, we spied the men seated around the family room’s expansive oak table playing pinocle as usual. Their bulky frames huddled over their cards while they talked and contemplated their next moves.

Eventually, we joined the rest of the kids to flop onto the porch’s assorted chairs and reflect on the holiday’s events in hushed voices. Soon, my mind drifted from the conversation. Closing my eyes, I inhaled the pungent scent of geraniums that hung in large baskets around us, listened to lonely crickets chirping for mates, and sank further into my favorite pillowy chair.

Alerted by the screeching screen door, excitement built among us as the adults spilled onto the porch, urging us to join them

on the Adirondack chairs arranged in a semi-circle on the velvet grass. We eagerly climbed onto a parent’s warm lap. Before I knew it, fireworks filled the sky in all their red, white, and blue glory. I snuggled close to my mother, my head tipped back on her shoulder to watch the show while her arms sheltered me from my fear of the deafening noise.

My grandparents and mother are no longer with me, my cousins and I live far apart, and that large, white farmhouse on the hill has a new resident–unrelated to our family. But in my mind, I can revisit those idyllic moments any time I choose. Sometimes I hold them close to my heart, content with nostalgia. At times like today, I share them with loved ones and friends.

Now it’s your turn. I’d love to hear about your cherished Independence Day memory, or perhaps a tradition in your family that makes this holiday extra-special for you.

May we also remember those who strive to keep America, “The land of the free and home of the brave.”

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14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. alicamckennajohnson
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 09:48:11

    What lovely memories. What I remember most growing up in Alaska is begging my parents to stay up until 1am when the sky would finally get dark enough for the fireworks to begin.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Jul 04, 2011 @ 10:34:53

      Wow, Alica! I had trouble waiting patiently until nine. I can’t imagine the build-up having to wait four additional hours. That’s incredible!

  2. Jeannie Moon
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 11:10:23

    Memories? I remember going out early with my father to put up flags in town. The local Kiwanis Club had hundreds of flags they would put up all along Main Street. We’d always have a cookout, either at my house or one of my relatives. It was low key and relaxed…the way it should be.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Jul 04, 2011 @ 11:34:19

      I was in Girl Scouts, and I remember making the rounds at the local cemeteries, putting up flags next to the headstones in veterans’ honor. It’s a nice day to remember and reflect. Low-key and relaxing is good for that.

      Happy fourth, Jeannie!

  3. Maggie Van Well
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 11:18:24

    In South Freeport, Fourth of July meant hanging out with the kids on the block, waiting until nightfall when the only person on our block who had fireworks lit them off. They were mostly noisy, none of the pretty ones. Still, we couldn’t wait until nine.

    Now, living in Deer Park, I can’t look out a window in my house without seeing the sky light up. Much prettier, but lacking the childhood joy of knowing summer vacation had just begun and the only care you had was whether or not your bike had a flat.

  4. Jolyse Barnett
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 11:36:45

    Ahhhh, there’s nothing quite like the advent of summer!

  5. Catie Rhodes
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 12:39:41

    Your memories were beautifully written. I’m envious of your skill.

    What I remember most is sitting in a smoke-filled room (because everybody in my family smoked) and listening to story after story of how our family came to be. The kids were made to sit on the outskirts. We were instructed not to interrupt as the adults spoke.

    There, I heard the stories of my great-grandfather, the bootlegger who went to prison several times. I heard the stories of how our family came to Texas from Spain and Mexico and the Indian Reservations of Oklahoma. I heard the stories of great aunts who ran away to Las Vegas and married gamblers and other great aunts who joined the circus. I heard the stories of my great-great grandmother being a powerful witch.

    Over the years, I collected these stories, memorized them. Imagine my surprise a few years ago when I was asked to sit in the middle of the circle and tell the history of our family to the younger generation. It was touching and a little sad to know I’m passing through life and my time is limited.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking post and for sharing your beautiful writing.

  6. Christine Ashworth
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 12:48:35

    Such sweet memories, Jolyse – how lucky you are!

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Jul 04, 2011 @ 16:36:33

      Thanks for stopping by, Christine!

      I treasure them. My parents were wise to teach me never to take anything for granted–including our large, extended family. Perhaps that’s why I love to weave stories with relatives as strong secondary characters. 🙂

  7. Joelene Coleman
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 13:36:12

    Ahhh, to go back to “simpler days.” Your post struck a meloncholy chord. Wonder where hot dogs, watermelon, and potato salad would be if it wasn’t for 4th of July picnics? Tonight, our nation will light up with fireworks from “sea to shining sea.” Awesome thought. Today we’re united. Let’s hope we stay that way! Thanks for the walk down memory lane. The flag, jumping back from sparklers falling near my bare feet, and the smell of sulphur in the air are my memories.

    • Jolyse Barnett
      Jul 04, 2011 @ 16:40:13

      Hi Joelene!

      Happy Fourth of July to you, and thanks for sharing your memories. Sparklers would be on my daughter’s list, too, since those are a tradition on my in-laws’ side. I love the concept–miniature fireworks for the hand.

  8. Dawn Berkoski
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 17:06:16

    Great post!

  9. Jolyse Barnett
    Jul 04, 2011 @ 17:10:48

    Thanks, Dawn! I hope you’re enjoying this beautiful weather. 🙂

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