1. Mt. Vernon, IllinoisWe return to our roots each summer, to my parents' hometowns—my mother's city and my father's tiny village outside that city. My grandparents live across from the city park. On the Fourth, we cross the street and lie on the grass by the pond, where the fireworks zoom and explode over our heads. The grass is dry and the road so hot my mother says you could fry an egg on it.
2. Seneca LakeWe pile into our big sailboat, the K-boat, and head out to the middle of the lake. Lights from dozens of motorboats flicker around us, and soon we hear the first muffled BOOM of the fireworks at the American Legion. We comment on each one, sometimes applauding, sometimes yelling "Dud!" My mother and father begin singing, first patriotic songs and then our favorites: "I've Been Workin' on the Railroad," "Clementine," "Waltzing Matilda." The black water laps against the hull, a windless night.
3. The LegionGeneva, New York. In high school I leave my parents to the quiet of the boat and join my friends and the rest of our city at the American Legion. It's a carnival, with games, rides, and food. Italian sausage with peppers and onions, chicken wings, cotton candy, popcorn. School's just been out two weeks, but it seems like forever since we've seen our friends. We know everyone. We spread our blankets on the grass and hold hands with our boyfriends, thinking that nothing in our lives could ever be sweeter than this moment.
4. The RiverCamping at the Nolichucky River near Davy Crockett's birthplace in Limestone, Tennessee, we are dirty, young college students with absolutely no responsibilities, for the most part. A few of us have jobs waiting tables. We sleep in tents or beat-up vans in a cornfield by the river, swimming during the day and sitting by a fire at night. We shoot off fireworks at night, just the few we could afford. We have never known such freedom. In the morning, the hot sun soaks into our tents and we wake, thirsty and sweating already. The river flows lazily, brown and thick. We have no idea how our lives our about to change.
Johnson City, Tennessee. Barefoot, we dance in the dusty grass to Brian and the Nightmares. At night we stand under the fireworks, listening to the local radio station play "Proud to Be an American," the fireworks timed in perfect synchronicity. Ashes fall. I have grown 10 years in one. Graduation from college brings a freedom I'm not sure I want yet.
5. Freedom Fest
5. Freedom Fest
6. AmesWe watch the fireworks from the lawn at university with our Iowa friends. Our kids tumble on the ground at our feet, chasing fireflies and eating the picnic we've brought with us. Little ones in red, white and blue on a hot night in the midwest. How did we get to this place, where life really, truly is as sweet as it gets?
7. HomeBack in Tennessee after eight years of sojourning, we are complete. We have our little traditions, adjusting year by year as the kids grow. It's a family holiday always, with brothers and cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents. There's no Seneca Lake, no fabulous fireworks display. We buy bottle rockets and tanks and eat burgers and pasta salad, home-made ice cream and watermelon. Are we are all thinking about being somewhere else, wondering if this is enough? Will our children have enough memories to carry them?
I like to think so.
Happy Independence Day. May it be filled with good food, fellowship, and fireworks.