Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Rockin' the 4th

My life’s experiences as an author often wind up in my books. While I’m writing, I let my mind wander wherever it goes to come up with settings, emotions, and dialogue. I free my mind and don’t censor myself. Chances are, if what I’ve written makes it through my own edits, it will stay. Being a writer has added to the quality of my life because I’ve become more of an observer and a listener and everything interests me.

So with the July 4th holiday coming up, I’ve been reflecting on my favorite memories of this celebration. It’s a federal holiday—typically a long weekend for most—which is reason enough to celebrate. Independence Day (commemorating our freedom from Great Britain and the adoption of our Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776) is typically celebrated with fireworks displays, parades, picnics, BBQs, baseball games, and gatherings of families.

I’ve had many fond memories of this holiday. My brothers and sisters used to wage war in the neighborhood with bottle rockets. I mean serious war, folks. We had bunkers and booby traps and body armor in the form of hooded winter jackets in the middle of the Texas summer heat. My oldest brother, Ed, once donned a hooded winter coat to protect himself from the onslaught of direct hits. He launched bottle rockets from a Coke bottle pointed wherever he aimed—like a young Rambo—but one blasted out of the bottle and turned on him. A self-inflicted wound. It spun back into his hood and sent sparks flying around his head. He looked like a human torch (except for the weird dance he performed) trying to smother the live round. He could have lost an eye, instead of the singe circle of hair that got burned off his head. This wasn’t exactly one of his stellar moments. Now that he’s a father, giving sage advice to his boys on fireworks, he has real credibility (even though it’s a story he’s never told them). Sometimes I’m amazed he’s still alive.

The memory of my brother setting his head on fire ranks near the top of my list of childhood memories for reason only a kid would understand, probably because Ed survived to laugh about it. But my favorite memory of this holiday came when I was in my 30s and vacationing in Hawaii. I lived in Alaska at the time, so spending weeks on a beach was as close to heaven as I could imagine. My husband and I didn’t know what to expect, but we’d been invited by friends to join them in an annual event they participated in on July 4th. A boat picked us up on the beach near our hotel. I’m not talking about a pier landing. We had to walk into the ocean and clamor—as gracefully as possible—from the cresting waves and into a raft. I should have taken note that arriving at the party onboard the boat, soaking wet, was a hint of things to come.

Every year, a group of close friends launches an all out war on the water between two boats. They make huge slingshots with surgical tubing and launch large water balloons, trying to score hits. Better than the old game, Battleship. The two boats run a parallel course and bombard the partygoers with mega-water-balloons. The battle was a lot of fun, but I will never forget being adrift on the ocean at sunset in paradise with warm water everywhere and the sounds of laughter filling my soul with a contentment I will always remember.

But after it grew dark, the boats anchored near shore. We had the best seats in the house as we watched the fireworks on the beach from the boats rocking on the waves. The dazzling lights reflected on the water and I couldn’t drink enough of that memory in, surrounded by friends and my husband beside me.

My favorite memory of the July 4th holiday was a little unconventional, but most good memories are. With the holiday coming up, how will you spend it? Do you have a favorite July 4th memory to share? Tell me a story.

29 comments:

  1. Wasn't it a 4th of July fireworks Pepsi ad that took Michael Jackson's hair, bless his heart. It's sad, but I can't think of one 4th of July celebration worthy of remembering except for once when we lived in New Orleans and took our three young sons across the Mississippi River to the levy to watch fireworks. It's only memorable because my wife sat in a fire ant bed.

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  2. The fireworks in NYC in 1976 celebrating our 200 years of independence was impressive.

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  3. John--OMG! I guess fire ants on the 4th counts as a memory of the holiday, ranks right up there with my brother's head on fire. You crack me up.

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  4. Wow, Joe. I bet that was. Seeing that in person must have been spectacular. I love fireworks.

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  5. On July 4th 1976, I was on the deck of our boat on the Charles River in Boston, watching fireworks and listening to Arthur Fiedler's Esplanade concert. They fired cannons during the Overture of 1812, and it was splendid.

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  6. John--I thought you were going to tell me you've been to Never Neverland.

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  7. Hey Kathryn--What is it about boats & the 4th? I'm not a great swimmer and almost drowned when I was a kid, but I love being on a boat and living near water. The kind of memory you shared, I can truly see and hear it.

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  8. Back when I was a kid my folks would host a big potluck for the neighborhood. Food, swimming, badminton, horseshoes, then we'd go out to the front lawn and sit in chairs and watch a local fireworks display. Good times.

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  9. Independence Day has been a big deal for me for as long as I can remember. As a kid, it was all about the picnic and the ridiculoulsly dangerous fireworks. Who remembers the M80 firecracker? That sucker was a quarter stick of dynamite! And cherry bombs. You could launch a galvanized pail thirty or forty feet in the air with the proper application of a cherry bomb. The pail wasn't much good for holding water anymore, though.

    When I got to William and Mary and studied history, it hit me for the first timw what those men in 1776 actually did. They literally pledged "our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor" to the cause of liberty, waging a war that they couldn't possibly win with an army that didn't exist against the world's greatest superpower. The courage they showed gives me a chill.

    On July 4, 1976, I was still a teenager. Some friends and I went down to the National Mall in Washington. We got there early to hear a full reading of the Declaration of Independence from the steps of the National Archives. It was a terrific crowd and a terrific reading. As the Declaration declared "the causes which impelled [us] to the separation," people booed each of King George's affronts against the American colonists. Most impressive of all was the HUGE cherr that went up when the reader got to, "by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, [we] solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved."

    The memory resonates specially in the context of the times, when patriotic fervor was anything but the norm. That was the beginning of a perfect day. Later, we found our spot on the Mall, spread our blankets and watched the fireworks. I guess the fireworks were good, but after so many other spectacular displays in the intervening years, I can't pinpoint that one.

    It's the cheer that I remember, that feeling of unity.

    John Gilstrap
    www.johngilstrap.com

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  10. Here in the Pacific Northwest it typically rains on the 4th of July, so any time it's clear and dry is a good time.

    The small town I live in has an Independence Day celebration on the 3rd. So people in the area can watch the Poulsbo display, then the following night go to Seattle watch that one as well. My wife and I took my ailing mother to dinner at a restaurant that is actually on the second floor of a pier over the water.

    We sat outside on the deck and hung around to watch the fireworks from there. The display was fired from a barge in the bay not 100 yards away from us on that patio.

    It was the happiest I'd ever seen her, and I'm still not sure if it was the fireworks that did put the smile on her face or if it was the incredibly tasty dinner we all enjoyed.

    It was one of the few times my mother was able to enjoy a firworks display, as most of her her working life she worked at night.

    Sadly, it was the last time she would see something like that as she succumbed to heart problems the following year.

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  11. Jim--I love that. I just got back from celebrating my parent's 60th wedding anniversary. The whole family drove 2 hrs away to spend a weekend at a couple of deluxe cabins on Lake LBJ where we spent time at the pool & spa, played ping-pong, horseshoes, a crazy game of Guessures, and ate until we could bust. We shared a special moment when my sister showed a DVD of the family growing up and my niece read a special piece she wrote about the family. Very touching.

    Anyway, I think July 4th is about family to me now. Thanks for sharing your memory.

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  12. John--I definitely remember M80s. It's amazing we lived beyond our teen years.

    And your memory on the National Mall in DC gave me goose bumps and helped me imagine what courage it took to make the freedom we enjoy today into a reality. Thanks for sharing your memory.

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  13. John H--Thanks for sharing your thoughts and the touching story with your mother. Beautifully told. I'm so glad you had that moment with her.

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  14. The 4th is actually my birthday, so when I was very young I'd thought all those fireworks and parades were for me :)
    My parents live by the water, and this year I'll be there for the festivities (and to celebrate turning forty, if celebrate is the right word). We'll eat lobster and buttered corn, then watch the illegal fireworks display off the dock by their house. The neighbors always manage to produce a spectacular one, although some of them tend to be shot alarmingly low across the water.

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  15. Happy forthcoming birthday, Michelle. July 4th is a seriously cool day and I can see why you associate fireworks with birthday celebrations. Lobster and corn, yummmm!

    Thanks for sharing your birthday memories. I think fireworks on the water is like seeing it twice as big.

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  16. Fourth of July in Alaska is for most folks about fishing and barbeque. The majority of folks in the city and bush alike take up their poles, get in their boats and rake in salmon, shrimp, rockfish, and halibut. Those of us stuck at home or work or otherwise unable to get out to the water tend to grill up tons of whatever meat is at hand. Fireworks, while we do have them on the 4th, are primarily a fall and winter event up here. We have them in excess at the State Fair, maybe Fur Rendezvous time, and always big time at New Year. But summer fireworks under the 24 hour sun are always late (well after 11pm) and unless it's cloudy enough to really see them they're basically just noise and smoke.

    As a kid in Ohio I don't remember ever actually going to see fireworks on the 4th. We would sit on the back porch of our house in Pickerington and watch the display 20 miles away in downtown Columbus...at least those fireworks that rose high enough above the horizon to see. I think there was a small display in our own town, only five miles away, but due to the lay of the land all we got was distant flashes and the late arriving rumble. So I ended up watching one distant fireworks display and listening to another going off in a different rhythm, then trying to mentally synchronize them, imagining what it would be like if we were actually there and the sound and light worked in harmony.

    Kinda like playing Dark Side of the Moon while watching Wizard of Oz (original album and 1979 VHS as I recall synchronized in an amazingly trippy way...or maybe it was the mushroom pizza). Of course at ten years old I didn't know about the potential of herbal/chemical substances that could'a bridged that gap for me, so I had to do it intentionally.

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  17. I'm the only person I know who DOESN'T enjoy fireworks. Not that they are not pretty, but they are excessively noisy, and I hate noise (sadly, we live in a very noisy world).

    I usually just offer up a prayer of thanks for the One who made me free and the men & women who did and do serve, then veg out for the day and try to use that rare day off to get some serious creative juices flowing.

    I'm starting a different novel beginning tomorrow so that 3 day weekend will come in mighty handy.

    BK Jackson

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  18. basil, Dark Side of the Moon and the Wizard of Oz wasn't from the pizza.

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  19. Ahhh, John H.....you've been there too.

    ;-)

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  20. Hey Basil--I'm with John about the mushroom pizza thing. Your trip down memory lane was more like trippin'.

    As I remember about Alaska, the first run of Salmon is already a the Kenai. I used to fish that river every week for as long as my friend Mike could stand company. His family had land on the river and we fished lots, but my favorite time was the 3rd week in July when the Kings are running with the Reds. Great fishing. There's nothing like fresh grilled Salmon, especially if I could get someone else to clean it.

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  21. BK--I grew up in a house with 5 kids. Quiet was never an option, although I do enjoy solitude when I can get it.

    Best wishes on your new novel. That's exciting. Having time off from work is a real blessing.

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  22. Jordan, I am anxiously awaiting dipnetting in Kenai, last week of July we're going down and hopefully coming back with several dozen Red Salmon and a king. That's my kinda fishing, just standing there with a net and letting them come to me.

    And, for those who doubt...here's a link to the Oz thing.

    And yeah...to really make it fit best there's probably a need for some kind of external psychological accelerant. Although the scarecrow bit fits very well with the Lunatic song.

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  23. Oh...and would you believe the Pink Floyd thing actually synchronizes much better with this Chinese Communist Party Ballet?

    Weird...I think this is my new 4th of July tradition...except I don't need any chemical assistance these days, I can just enjoy it with my mind in mostly one piece. ;-D

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  24. Basil, Jordan-

    I did the Floyed thing straight. I liked how things later in the verses would sync up with the action on screen on the second round.

    The only fishing I can say I did was while I was on Kodiak. All kinds of fishies in a processing plant in Kodiak City. Fun times, but not as much fun as after we got off work.

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  25. Omg, John. If you worked at a cannery, you are THE MAN! Tough, messy work.

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  26. Basil-- Dipnetting? I'm talking about flyfishing for Reds. I only did the flyfishing the last 2 years I was there. Kicking myself for not trying it sooner.

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  27. It wasn't particularly tough work, just 12 hour days kinda put a crimp on your drinkin' time.

    When in Rome you know...

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  28. John-- When we scored our limit and got cleaned up, we hit the bars when the cannery workers did. Good times. Talk about people cutting loose.

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  29. Yeah, I'm grocery shopping fisherman versus a sport fisherman. I go dipnetting because I can get 60+ fish in a day or two at the beach, as opposed to 6 a day.

    As far as cannery guys, dude my hat's off to you. My room mates pre-marriage did that stuff. One in a cannery at Valdez the other on a boat out of Bethel with a built in processor. They used to come back with an entire years income after only 3 or 4 months work. That income was of course promptly spent on what any 19 or 20 year old stud would spend it on, beer, dope and strippers. Me, I worked at the local Sizzler for three years before joining the Marines. Might not have been an attention getting, glorious. money raking job, but I did have a check still coming in by the following March...and I didn't smell like fish guts. Still, if I had to do it all over again I might just try the cannery deal. Maybe I would'a had some dough saved up by the time I got married.

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