Fourth of July

(July 4th, 2015)
Fireworks courtesy of the High Line
The land sloped down to the water. The steps, broken up by landings and chairs and littered generously with towels and floats, sloped up to the house. Overlooking the whole scene from the deck, like a general, and in a tie, sat my grandfather. It was the fourth of July: the tie, patriotic.

I was not in a tie. Those of us (the rest) nearer the action had a more relaxed dress code. I ran between the lake and the hotdogs and watermelon and cakes (and oh the sodas!) in my bathing suit. We wore life-jackets when skiing and sunscreen may have been applied. But there was no call for ties, however patriotic.

For me, the fourth of July was as close to perfection as one could imagine. Even if it did signal the midway point of summer break I could push off that ominous sign and enjoy myself. How could you not enjoy a day of near constant food and fun? And with watermelon, food and fun are the same thing. The rinds float and can be used for all sorts of boats. And even though anything that sugary is sticky (and I hated sticky things) you could always just eat in the lake and wash up immediately. Problem solved.

My father's family is large and close and most everyone would come. Wherever you went there was always a crowd. There was a long wait to ski. Most of the time I would avoid the boat. My siblings and I spent a lot of time at the lake during the summer. We were spoiled with boat time and for the most part were glad to shared it on the holiday. I'm pretty sure this was more calculation than generosity on my part. The water was much choppier, the ride less enjoyable, on such a busy day. Additionally, when the boat is full there are many more eyes to watch you crash. I preferred the quieter water of a weekday morning and the smaller audience. That is unless the boat runs out of gas on a wednesday morning at 6am. But that is a different memory. I'll leave that by saying skis make poor paddles.

While there was a line for the boat and often for the food, there was no line for swimming. We swam everywhere. I loved swimming under the dock, trying to touch the bottom of the lake some 18 feet below the end of the dock, or just floating lazily around. But it was still wise to pay attention while floating. I still find it enjoyable to sneakily swim up on an unsuspecting victim and violently pull them under. Among cousins, this is generously repaid. Also, one year I remember someone had brought a large slingshot. It took three people to launch a water-balloon. But from to very top deck you could launch the missile an incredible distance. I know that I was aiming for swimmers and paddlers. Taking one of those balloons to the neck from 100 yards out wouldn't have felt great. But I didn't think that way back then.

As the evening wore on and dusk gave way to darkness the end of the dock would grow busy again. In South Carolina fireworks are gloriously unregulated. Rockets and mortars and screamers and sparklers were unfurled against the dark sky. I loved it all.*

That was my fourth of July. And like most of the best days of my life it would end in exhaustion and bed as the lake still gently rolled under me, rocking me to sleep and to another day.

I can now understand what they day was to my parents. They worked like crazy. To be sure they enjoyed themselves. They liked family and they loved large parties. It just takes a lot of work to manage an all-day event. My father drove the boat almost continually. And that was only one small job. Food was purchased and cooked and cleaned up. The house was prepped. The life jackets and skis and kneeboards and ropes were collected organized. Towels were picked up and cleaned. kids were kept from killing each other or drowning. I don't think I'd try to pull something like that off.

Still, I can not yet guess with any certainty what the day was like for my grandparents. In my memory I see them only a few times as I passed by for another soda. To me they looked like observers. But that gives me too much credit. If I thought about them at all it would be only to think about how crazy it was to wear a tie at the lake.

Were they filled with longing to join in? Were they wishing they were back home? Did they enjoy the fireworks? Did they not like to swim? Were they just observing from the porch? Or did they enjoy something I didn't see or understand? What is it like to watch one's family running and screaming and laughing?

On my long four minute commute to work I pass an elementary school. They have a little yard next the street. It seems that whenever I go for lunch there are children at recess. As I pass it is one continual high-intensity sense stimulation. There is constant and frantic movement. There is constant screaming and high pitched screaming. In this tiny yard they play kickball and hula hoop and climb on the jungle gym. how they keep it straight is beyond me. Walking past is enough for me. I actually enjoy the clamor for that minute. I don't need to try to swing on the monkey bars to enjoy others enjoying them. Maybe that is what my grandparents felt. I hope so.

I hope you have a wonderful fourth of July and I hope you are able to love on grandparents and family and friends. I am thankful that my grandparents were so surrounded. I know many seniors even in my neighborhood are not so blessed. Please consider donating to H.O.M.E. right now. They help very low income seniors - many who have little other support - meet basic needs and social needs. Give in honor of one you love so that another senior can better enjoy their holiday too!

*I can not have a post about the fourth of July and leave out all the best parts.

For my older sister, our cousin Parker, and myself the fourth was only the finale of the holiday. We showed up early as part of the preparation crew. You might think this sounds like work. And it was for my aunt and uncle. But for the three of us it was just another smashing day of summer.

If anyone wants to compete for favorite aunt or uncle I know a few ways you might go about it. If this aunt and uncle were not trying they did a damn good job of falling into the role. It is hard not to win favorite uncle if you have a jet-ski. Additionally, you can smoke the competition with a premier tailgating spot at the college of said son and nephew.

I don't have command of the written word to describe the deliciousness of their tailgating. I could tell you of the amount of meat and salad and beer and cigars but numbers are sterile and fail to capture the intensity. I have long forgotten who won what game. But I still see, with a memory as sharp as ice, myself sitting by the grill staring at my hands filled with skewers of spicy shrimp than I can barely hold much less eat - ever more coming off the grill. I will always remember that cigar so good that I could even tell and the accompanying line that went with it. "I was saving these for a win, but why wait!" Yes, if these things don't win you favorite uncle then the niece and nephews are not worth it.

Back to the 3rd of July! Our aunt would take the three of us in the car to the lake. The ride was a party. With barely any pauses we would sing all of those terribly repetitive songs of childhood. The songs covered such important topics as things on things on things on logs in the bottom of the sea, and about eating peanuts (and dying) or flies, spiders, and frogs and an entire farm at some point. I think my aunt was leading this too. She didn't just put up with this. She revelled in the merriment. She may be crazy.

And joy of joys we would stop for fireworks. Along the country roads that led to the lake rednecks and other assorted colorful southerners would set up stands to sell explosives. We were all allowed to pick out one firework. Katie still doesn't enjoy the loud explosions or super bright flashes. She always chose sparklers. Parker loved loud explosions and was very smart and would choose a packet of individual crackers to get as much fun out of a single work. I was a bit strange (really?) and fell in for fireworks that were shaped like other things. My favorite might have been the tank. The tiny paper tank when lit would scurry a foot forward on the dock before igniting the "gun" and shoot sparks out of the front. It always looked much cooler at the store than it did in action. Still, after it was done we could blow it apart with Parker's crackers.

And did we have to work when we finally got to the house? Hahahaha. Silly question. No, we wandered through the yard finding lizards and turtles, and blew up thing with fireworks. We rode the jetski, swam, and perfected the triple cannon-ball. (The triple cannon ball involves one person running down the length of the bridge to be joined by the the remaining two standing at the back of the dock where the three would run to the end jumping in the lake in perfect unison. I'm not sure this choreography created larger splashes but it was far cooler. Yes, a tough life but someone had to do it.

In one last memory the three of us with our aunt and uncle sat at the table on the 3rd. We had corn on the cob and (for those of us in braces) corn off the cob. I don't remember much of the conversation save some mention of eating corn of the cob through a tennis racquet. But what I do remember is joy.

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