This post is inspired by kukla_tko42, a blogger whom I read via a friend’s friends page, who requested stories about the Fourth of July. Thinking about this topic occupied me all this morning with pleasant nostalgia while I waited for J to get out of minor surgery (port installed successfully, all systems go), so many thanks to her!
I thought about telling the stories of going to see the fireworks in Philadelphia when I was in college: about the time when we were standing on the Art Museum steps, way too close, and a friend got a hot cinder in his eye. Or talking about the time J was tied up working overtime at a help center and I was hanging out with him when we heard the booms start up; we unplugged the help desk phone and threaded the long cord out the window and plugged the phone back in on the lawn to watch the show. But what really comes to mind when I think of the Fourth of July are earlier times, and our family get-togethers.
When I was growing up, we lived in the Poconos in a small house just a short walk from the lake. It was originally our vacation house; we lived in Puerto Rico and in the school vacations, the summer and the long winter break, we’d fly up to Allentown where my grandparents lived and drive from there to the mountains. In winter, we’d arrive to snow-covered, cindered roads and enough snow piled up next to the driveway for elaborate forts and tunnels. But in summer, it was fireflies and spicy-smelling ferns greening over the rocky ground, and swinging in the hammock with a book, watching the dappled sunlight fall between bright green beech leaves. When we moved back to the States, after a single miserable year in northern New Jersey we decamped to the woods and our beloved lake house.
My father called it “Nido del lago”, the nest of the lake, and a friend painted a sign for the house with that name and a nest full of beautiful blue eggs. He loved it there, and he was never happier than when the house was full of friends and family for a party. We always had a crowd staying there over the Fourth of July weekend. We kids would swim all day, and in the afternoon the adults would arrange a huge tower of logs in the big fire ring out front. We’d gather deadfalls for tinder and cut green twigs to make marshmallow skewers, trimming the bark from the business ends with a penknife. Then once it got dark enough the fire would be lit, tongues of flame licking up the logs and sending sparks roaring into the night. We’d roast marshmallows and sing campfire songs and tell stories around the fire until it was almost out, then Dad would get out the hose and stir the embers and soak the whole thing down in a billow of white steam before sending everyone in to bed, adults in the bedrooms and kids wall to wall in the living room.
I remember there were a couple of years that someone said “let’s put on a show!” and my cousins and I spent the whole day in whispered preparations, plotting and rehearsing in the garage. We painted a red white and blue curtain and scrounged up props and set up a stage on one end of the wide porch that fronted the house, and that night we performed patriotic skits and songs for our parents and grandparents. I can’t remember anything of what we actually did, but I distinctly remember us all taking our bows in the warm glow of a shower of sparklers, amid the noise of thunderous familial applause.