My parents didn’t adopt traditions. It was my grandparents’ generation that was heavily inundated with them. As the grandchildren, any sense of belonging to something deeply rooted to family foundation was filtered down with a skipped beat with my parents merely playing speed bump on a paved road of celebrations and practices.
Every Fourth of July my parents would take us to Grandma Sacrey’s house. She lived in a small rock cottage a block from Western Kentucky University in the town I grew up in, and every year there was a huge fireworks display on the football field.
Mom would take refuge in Grandma Sacrey’s kitchen at the small table for two which was pushed up against the pink wall adjacent from the stove and oven, between which there was little room to move about from the refrigerator to the sink. The confines of her space was warm and inviting, and upon her table there was always a selection of specialty crackers, cookies, and other goodies.
My siblings and I would walk across the street and through the neighbor’s back yard where a gate opened into the playground of Jones Jaggers Elementary School. We would play on the merry-go-round and monkey bars as families filtered in to fill the grounds. We would then claim a swing where we would settle down, full of anticipation, to watch the fireworks display.
I vividly remember being that small, and how looking up at the brilliant succession of exploding lights and wonder, listening to the loud pops and bangs before a sprinkling of stars falling from the sky, filled me with a great sense of purpose while at the same time dwarfing me into a single speck on the surface of the earth. Yet, there was no elicited response of patriotism and honor. Instead, I would imagine myself somewhere far off in an entirely different city living an entirely different life. I was a helpless daydreamer in those days, always looking for a way to escape into a future where I felt in control, safe and secure. I would imagine my own children sitting around me on a blanket we had thrown down onto the grass, just as the moms around me were doing with their own children.
When the show came to an end, I would watch the families load up their children and belongings. We would gather ourselves and head back through the yard and up to Grandma Sacrey’s house where we would retreat to her kitchen for ice cream sandwiches. She never failed to stock them for the occasion.
Last night I held Joseph in my arms as we looked down the steps of our house at Mister J and the girls setting off bottle rockets on the edge of the driveway. The girls would laugh and screech wildly as they ran back up toward the cars as Mister J lit another round. He would remind them to stay put once the firecracker went off, just to be sure there wasn’t going to be another explosion.
Even still, after all of these years, the lights and sounds of our own homegrown celebration didn’t lend much for me in the way of patriotism. It did, however, bring me a sense of comfort and purpose looking into Joseph’s eyes at the reflection of the lights. He was filled with his own sense of wonder with his mouth gaped open as he celebrated his very first Fourth of July with his family.
That reminds me, I need to run to the store for ice cream sandwiches.