Sunday, July 05, 2009

"Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!"

I feel so silly for having put up the last post for Independence Day. That is totally not what I wanted to write for our nation's greatest holiday. I posted it as a late night one-off and it never occurred to me that it was after midnight on the third. As far as I was concerned, it was a thought that had occurred to me after a long, grueling day at work and a couple of beers. Whizzing on common tools isn't how I want to commemorate The Fourth of July.

Growing up, there were three High Holidays: Christmas (of course, & it was my Dad's birthday), Easter (Mom's favorite, and she always had a beautiful yellow dress), and Independence Day. The first two had their own set of expectations and rewards, but 7/4 was one that trumped every other holiday you could name. As a kid, I'd have traded my birthday for one extra Fourth any year. It was that good.

It was a day that had everything! It had all the feast of a good Thanksgiving without all the stuffiness and there was the collection of relatives that you really liked. There was warm weather with sunshine instead of the typical rain/sleet/snow that usually accompanied most holidays in central Ohio. The real topper was the presents. The presents that went bang.

It was tradition at my house to rise up early in the morning and eat a light breakfast and then hike the quarter mile up the road to the gravel pit that was along the crick and set off a brace of bottle rockets and fire crackers, the kind of stuff that is only really good and safe for children to light in the daylight. I can't tell you the amount of beer cans I've sent to their collective doom, or at least launched several feet into the air.

After that it was home to help Mom prepare the big afternoon meal that wouldn't take place for five hours. At noon, things would be half ready and the family would start to trickle in. Aunts, uncles, cousins, etcetera, would fill the house and then the back yard. We caught crawdads and swam until lunch and then we put on the feedbag. It was grill food, potato salad, and deviled eggs as far as the eye could see.

Then the afternoon got interesting. Now it was time for the annual family skeet shoot. My mother was always the best shot, even though the shotgun was taller then her. Remnants of the clay pigeons would show through the receding snow the next spring to remind me again of the last years holiday and I would smile.

The rest of the day was spent playing games, grazing on the food, and catching up with family. The kids, me included, would keep pestering my Dad to see if it was dark enough to start letting off the fireworks.

To this very day, that is how I think of fireworks, they need to be let off in much the same way a little stream needs to be let off occasionally. Here is this compact bundle of energy that is simply looking for the chance to burst forth and create something bold, brilliant, and brief. Marvelous in it's brilliancy, and impressionable on the mind, much like being a kid.

One of my favorite memories of Independence Day is the cold, wet, rainy day my brother came home from Oklahoma after spending four years working in the oil fields. One the way home, he had stopped at some roadside stand and bought a 500 pack of firecrackers. This was his contribution to our annual Fourth celebration. That year money was tight and Dad didn't buy fireworks. The relatives were all staying home with ailments and there would be no grand party that year. On top of it all, it rained for a week straight and we had record rainfall. The temperature dropped and the crick arose. It got cool enough that my Dad lit a fire in our WWI barracks stove just to drive the dampness from our stone house and left the fire at a slow smolder.

My brother arrived and much hoopla was had. "Wait right here," he said with a smile as he ran through the summer down-pour back to the truck. He returned, drenched, and by the front porch light ripped open the package of firecrackers enough to find the main fuse and then dashed back out into the pouring rain long enough to place it on the millstone that was the centerpiece of our front yard, light the fuse and got away.

Of the 500, six or eight went off. It was the biggest let down. It was a few bangs in the rain compared to a day of frolic to a small boy. No comparison.

The next morning I learned the funny side of the tale.

Any fire needs fed, and since my dad retired early and arose early, first thing in the morning, he went to throw in a couple of logs. What he didn't know was that my brother had thrown the 494-492 wet firecrackers into the stove at midnight the night before. They had been drying out for at least six hours, but it wasn't until my Dad lifted the lid of this huge cast-iron Army stove at six in the morning that the aforementioned four hundred and some odd firecrackers decided to go off!

Needless to say he was caught off guard. Let me take this opportunity to mention that my Dad ALWAYS slept in his birthday suit. When he got up in the morning, he was dressed in what he went to bed in. Namely nothing.

Now if you will, picture a 56 year old man, naked, well tanned tall but very skinny, startled by small explosions, who then drops a log on his right foot and in an effort to seek cover from the eruption of flaming coals, runs into the dining room screaming gibberish past his loving family as they are having breakfast.

I have every reason to celebrate 7/5 as 7/4 as who can brag that they have seen this sort of fireworks enacted to such low comedy. To see your father run naked and screaming through the room does tend to make an impression on one.

That my brother is a dick occurs to me first.

The other is that I remember how he would take the time to explain to his fourth child the importance of being a good citizen. How you owed a lot to those who came before you who went to a lot of trouble to insure that we could be free, even to to trouble of dieing for it. He also pointed out our failings, even though we live in a land of law and equality, and we supposedly respect learning.

His lessons stick with me to this very day and I hope to pass them on to my kids. Independence Day reminders me of my freedom, my family, my commitment to be a good citizen, and savor all the good qualities of being an American.

But mostly, it makes me wish my Mom and Dad could have seen my girls.

Your Fellow American,


  1. What a great story Doc, I hope you and the family had a great weekend.

  2. I'm sorry, I shouldn't have laughed at that (resetting empathy meter).

  3. Dude, you really do need a book deal. That was great.

  4. Damn, you really can't make up stories like that. It's why the truth is always better than fiction.

    ... although, from a Freudian perspective, I think there'd be something *really* weird about seeing my dad running through the house naked.


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