My favorite Fourth is about to pop

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 29, 2013

I shouldn’t admit this. I might regret it later. But I have to tell you: The Fourth of July has never been my favorite holiday.
There are several reasons, not one of which has anything to do with patriotism or the lack of it.
Growing up in the ’50s, in the rural South, children were taught that we were blessed to be born in the greatest nation on Earth, and we should never take that gift for granted.
I never took it for granted. I swear. I loved my country with my whole heart and wished it the happiest of birthdays, with many happy returns.
But here’s the thing. I flat-out hated having to go to the annual Hatch Mill company picnic, a Fourth of July “Happy Birthday, God Bless America,” fried chicken and fireworks extravaganza.
At least, I think that’s what it was called. Words to that effect.

My stepfather worked for the mill. He was a weaver, and proud of it. The weavers ran the looms. When the looms broke down, the fixers fixed them. Then the weavers went back to weaving. It was a symbiotic arrangement, mostly amiable, except on the Fourth of July.
On that date, the mill would host a picnic, and the mill hands would gather with their families to eat fried chicken and cheer for the fireworks and pull with all their hearts for one side or the other, weavers or fixers, in a do-or-die, no-holds-barred, last-man-standing tug-of-war.
That was fine. But it was hot, as my granddad would say, “Hotter than the devil’s toenails, or a firecracker in a feather bed on the Fourth of July.”
And I didn’t know any of the other kids, so I had nobody to play with, except my brothers. I already had to play with them too much at home.
So I’d keep to myself, swinging on the swings, watching the big boys throw chicken bones and firecrackers at each other. That was mildly entertaining, until they’d get bored and start throwing them at me.
I put up with it year after year for two reasons: One, I felt it was my patriotic duty; and two, my mother made me go.
That changed the summer I was 10, when my stepfather, a big man in size and stature, lost his footing in the tug-of-war and twisted his ankle so badly he was on crutches for six months.
They gave his job to one of the fixers. That Christmas, Santa didn’t make it to our house. But at least we never had to go to that company picnic again.

My children grew up on the fogbound coast of Northern California. Every Fourth of July, we’d bundle up against the cold, build a bonfire on the beach, do a picnic and watch fireworks with other shivering families.
I’d spend most of the evening trying to keep the kids from catching on fire or getting washed out to sea. I liked it better than the Hatch Mill picnic, but it was still not my favorite holiday.
Now my children are grown and we live miles apart. Like many families, it’s hard for us all to get together for holidays.
Last summer, my youngest and his wife and their 2-year-old came to Las Vegas to spend the Fourth with my husband and me. We barbecued and watched fireworks from our backyard. Then, while his mom and dad and Papa Mark swam in the pool, Randy buried his face in my neck and fell asleep. That was my favorite Fourth so far.
This year, on the Fourth of July, my husband’s oldest boy is getting married in California. We are taking the week off and renting a big house where our children and grandchildren will join us. We’ll sleep under the same roof, eat at the same table, celebrate the wedding of two beautiful people and watch fireworks under the same sky.
It will be absolutely my favorite holiday. And I might not even have to dodge chicken bones or firecrackers.
Just when you think the best is past, life will tap you on the shoulder and say, “Watch this!”
Here’s wishing you and yours a happy Fourth of July. It really is a great country, isn’t it?

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