I have some rough memories of the Fourth of July celebrations in my life. I mean, fireworks and cookouts and picnic blankets excluded, my summers have been chock full of weird. One of my most vivid memories is of standing at the north end of Main Street in my hometown for the big bicentennial parade and watching rodeo clowns in overalls and leather-tasseled chaps rush by me. At the time, I did not know what a rodeo was. I just wondered why the clowns were cowboys. I thought you could be either a clown or a cowboy. You could pick one or the other but not both. My other memory from that day was the fact that I was wearing a tiny polyester pantsuit. But it was a shorts suit. It was double-knit in hideous shades of schoolhouse red and navy blue and had a matching vest I wore over a white t-shirt. I had on white sandals and the blacktop was scorching my feet with mirage waves of somewhere in the 90 degree range. I wanted a popsicle. Not just any popsicle, a red one. Both sticks. And I didn't care if they melted all the way down to my elbows.
That day was much better than three years before when, on my way out the door to my neighbor Elizabeth's birthday party, my mother found my father passed out up a tree in the backyard with a running chainsaw in his hand. Ah, low blood sugar and hot days. He was stubborn and wanted that oak tree down by the weekend. He had already set the foundation for his ham radio antenna and the oak was much too close. So while my mother called the fire department and the paramedics and ran around in a screaming panic, I was consigned to my room. And in my room I had a perfect view of my father dangling first left and then right in his tree-climbing harness. I could hear the growl of the chainsaw first out of one ear and then out of the other. We didn't know that the chainsaw's motor was on but that the chain's drive mechanism wasn't engaged. I was just really excited to meet all the firemen who pulled Dad out of the tree. That day's outfit was a short white sleeveless dress with red and blue stars printed on it. And I wanted to wear royal blue shorts underneath (so I could play on the see-saw next door without my underoos showing). But I never got to go to Elizabeth's party. It was all over and done by the time my father was settled on the couch with an icy lab beaker of Coca-Cola.
Then there was college. Ah, college. All of my friends that had stayed in town for summer school (the town where I lived year-round) gathered for a typical beer bash on the 4th. Just after sunset, when most of the drinkers had switched from beer to liquor, my boyfriend-at-the-time confessed something so appalling (an accidental stunt that had terrible repercussions) that I decided to walk home. A friend caught up with me three blocks away and tried to calm me down. There was absolutely no calming me down. And I started marching. Four miles in to the six mile trek, I realized that I really should not be out walking alone, drunk, down a major roadway on a holiday known for drunk drivers and the occasional rapist. Just then the fireworks started. I felt as if I was in some bad horror movie, running down the side of the road, startled by the loud gunpowder reports and cars whooshing by next to me in the dark. And when I arrived home, sweaty and sober, I got in my car and drove back to pick up my still-drunk and even more sullen boyfriend. Good times.
And lately, with the state of the fireworks being less sparkle and more loud boom, I just stay home. No snuggling up with someone special on a lawn blanket to watch the colorful show over the trees, no braving the traffic at the city center to get the best rooftop view. Just hunkering in alone and waiting for the noise to stop. In that way, I have achieved my independence. But I can't say I don't miss a little of the drama. Just give me a couple of those white blooming flower finale fireworks and a hand to hold on the top of the hill at the park, then I will be happy.