Showing posts with label family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label family. Show all posts

Thursday, July 4, 2019

My Holiday

Most people get sentimental at Christmas time. For me it's the Fourth of July. It's the time when I miss my mom and dad the most. So many of my memories are tied up in Independence Day. It didn't start out that way. As a little kid, I vaguely remember my dad lighting a sparkler with a red-tipped punk once darkness had settled across our homestead, and me gingerly waving it around as my parents offered suggestions like, "Make a circle with it!" I was scared to death of sparklers and only appeased my mom and dad because they seemed so invested in the experience. I much preferred the strips of red caps that one could snap with a toy gun or explode simply by stomping one's foot atop them.

On the farm we didn't have access to a wondrous fireworks display. My big brother managed to secure a stash of fountains and cones that he set off in the middle of the yard. I did like those, but the experience was short-lived and then I went to bed.

It wasn't until we moved and my brother, indulging his love of all things explosive, set up his own fireworks stand that I began to take an interest. I was at that odd age, twelve, when I was all legs, and didn't know that guys were beginning to ogle me; as I padded barefoot across the asphalt between my brother's stand with my baby brother and his best friend hanging across the counter trying to talk my brother into giving them free bottle rockets, and the swimming pool, where I slathered myself with Coppertone, dropped white-framed plastic sunglasses over my eyes and stretched out on a chaise.

In my state fireworks were legal and folks didn't feel compelled to don a suit of armor to touch them, so all manner of Camaros and Pontiacs whipped into our driveway and their owners made a mad dash to my brother's stand to purchase their Deluxe Assortments. My brother hit upon an idea to increase business ~ he'd hold a drawing for a jumbo-pack. All one had to do was scribble their name and phone number on a slip of paper and drop it in the box. Like most giveaways (I suspect), no prize was ultimately awarded. In those days, the independent businessman had lots of competition. Little wooden stands were cropping up everywhere ~ there was even one directly across the highway. My brother trash-talked that other stand at every opportunity. "They sell duds," he'd murmur to potential customers who were eying the plastic-flag festooned plywood sarcophagus on the other side of the road.

KFYR played songs by Procol Harum and Scott McKenzie and The Rascals, and mostly by The Doors:

The thermometer outside my mom's kitchen window read 83 degrees. My chubby five-year-old sister and her best friend toddled down the concrete steps to the pool in their one-pieces and flip-flops, and proceeded to annoy me, while I did my best to ignore them. Mom was minding the motel office and surveyed the entire scene through the vast picture windows.

Dad kept cool in his own particular manner, by moseying up to the bar next door and downing copious glasses of whiskey sevens. Around six o'clock he'd stagger home and want to play a round of lawn darts with whoever'd agree to take him on. My entire family was essentially together in one spot, albeit lost in their individual endeavors, so it all felt home.

But I was by then crispy-red from the July sun and in no mood to witness the potential sharp-pointed  dart injuries, so I'd grab my striped bath towel and ascend the steps back to my air-cooled room, dodging hot rockets that zipped over the motel roof.

By the mid-eighties, I had children of my own and shorter legs. Dad was many-years sober and his drink of choice was coffee slurped from a white-handled mug. He and mom had sold the motel to save their sanity (and marriage) and retired to a colonial split-level in the city. The white house with its black roof was "our" house. Everybody showed up willy-nilly and walked in. Family reunions occurred around the Fourth of July ~ one or two sisters and assorted kids arriving from Texas; my second oldest sister and her husband having long ago ensconced themselves in the same town showing up fashionably late for any gathering. My big brother had kids of his own and only a tiny remnant of pyromania. My little brother, too, had young boys; and he schooled them in the finer points of firing up the by-now puny Roman candles and comets.

All that occurred long after the requisite Fourth of July activities and long past sundown.

The ultimate highlight of July 4 was the Mandan parade. The parade was an enormous undertaking, and that was just for the attendees. The day would begin around nine a.m. when sundry family members would congregate at Mom and Dad's house with their coolers and sunscreen and dicker over who would ride with whom. By ten, wedged into a distant parking space, we'd disembark with our essentials and trudge down to Main Street to claim our viewing spot on the grassy berm. We'd generally end up smack-dab in front of McDonald's, where my sister-in-law worked behind the counter. Our group generally consisted of my dad, two brothers, my little sister and me, and all our assorted kids. Mom couldn't take the heat, so she stayed back to mix up potato salad, toast dinner rolls, and whip cream to top her home-baked pies. Once my sister-in-law's shift ended, she'd stroll out to join the family gathering. My sister and I parked ourselves on a curb with our cameras, the men would loll behind us, and we'd throw out an occasional arm to stop our kids from traipsing out into the street.

(This is my school!)

The parade was a cornucopia of horses, marching bands, military veterans, kitschy polka bands atop floats, all manner of business establishment representation, and of course, farm implements. "I had one of those," Dad would exclaim so often that it became a running joke. We'd all stand for the American flag as it passed, and no one threw a tantrum about it.

Getting home was a mini-nightmare, but we'd turn around and do it again the next year. Mom and Dad's house was an oasis to our sweaty bunch of wayfarers. In her recliner, Mom snorted awake at the sound of the first pack of rag-tag parade revelers returning. My sister and I would ensconce ourselves in front of the basement television and watch MTV videos.

Like these:

Our kids played outside...and inside...and back outside...then inside (they were boys and had indefatigable energy). My brothers dozed in their living room chairs and Dad smoked out in the garage. Mom fretted over when to send someone to KFC to pick up a bucket of original recipe ~ my second oldest sister and her brood still hadn't shown up (we guessed that their regular wake-up time was sometime around noon). Everyone was starving and someone broached the notion of simply eating without them, but Mom wouldn't hear of it. Finally around five p.m. the lost travelers would appear and we'd chow down like we'd never in our lives tasted food.

When dusk finally settled, we straggled outside to sit on the concrete front step, nurse a cup of coffee and await the mini-show. My big brother, the long established expert, set up various explosives in the middle of the street and tried to coax the boys of the next generation to run out, barefoot, and fire them up. My little brother, not to be outdone, dragged out his purchased stash and started a parallel display. No sparklers made an appearance.

I wasn't all that impressed ~ been there ~ but I cherished the nearness of my family and their familiar scents.

I didn't know how soon it would all end. Too soon.

The Fourth of July is so different now. Somebody's lighting firecrackers outside my window as I write this. And I don't actually care, although I wonder where they laid their hands on them, since this is a scaredy-cat state.

My family (those that remain) won't read this, but I want to say that I love you and I miss you.

And my heart aches today for those ordinary, precious times.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Outlook Good


My mom and dad used to host card parties sometimes.  I'm not exactly sure how many times, because all I have to go on are some hazy memories and some black and white photos that I purloined from my mom's photo albums.

I remember that the parties were always held on a Saturday night.  My folks only hung out with people they were related to.  It's not that they were snobs, or clannish.  But those were the people they interacted with on a day-to-day basis.  My dad and his brother were in the farming biz together, so it was only natural that they had a close bond.  Thus my mom and my dad's brother's wife were friends, because what choice was there, really?  No, no.  They actually were friends.  My aunt was sort of an adventurous type, for her weight, which was enormous.  Many a dark moonlit night, she'd throw the car seat as far back as it would go, in order to fit behind the steering wheel of her 1952 black Ford sedan.  And off she'd go, burning up the back-country roads, with my mom on the passenger side, and us waifs sitting in the back.  My mom loved Aunt Barbara's free-spiritedness.

But sometimes, on a Saturday night, my mom and dad would invite everybody over to play cards ("everybody" being, brothers, nieces, nephews, in-laws; but only the cool ones.  The snooty ones were never invited, because they were wet blankets, and who needed them?  They could just sit home on their party lines and gossip about how decadent their relatives were, and how they were disowning them; yes, disowning).

My mom would set up card tables in the living room (or, as I told you before, "front room"; that's what we called it, perhaps because it was in the front of the house.  That seems quite logical, really.)
  My mom, my little brother, Jay, and me ~ in the "front room".  I was the ugliest child ever.

Soon, all the guests would arrive and go upstairs to throw their coats on my bed.  Around the time that watching the excitement became just too much for me to handle (i.e., I was sleepy), I would trundle up the stairs and fall asleep beneath the overcoats.

I'm not sure if it was the card games, which consisted of Smear and.....well, that's it.....or the drinks that people enjoyed more.  I do know that we never had pop in our house (yes, we called it "pop") unless it was 7-UP or Squirt (or, as the grownups called it, "mix").  And the only time we ever got to drink pop was when we secretly snatched some "mix" from the fridge when the grownups weren't watching.

At one of those parties, around age 3 to 5, I'm estimating, my parents cajoled me (which didn't take a whole lot of persuasion) to get up in front of the group of guests and do my singing and dancing routine.  I shudder to think about that now.  If my kid did that, I would be eternally embarrassed, which is probably why, to this day, the only advice I ever remember from my mom is, "Don't embarrass me".  But, at the time, my mom and dad were beaming, as if to say, "Look at our little idiot savant!  Isn't she 'special'?"

(And to this day, I try to always keep a low profile.)

Unfortunately, along with the card-playing guests came their children (my cousins).  I say "unfortunately", because I was rather discerning regarding who I chose to spend my time with, at age, oh, five to ten-ish.

My best friend (if I knew what that meant) at the time was Aunt Barbara's daughter, Karen, who I spent a lot of time with; because of the whole proximity thing.  The rest of them, well, I could take them or leave them.  And frankly, I mostly left their own devices.

But, as children do, because they love to pick special allies, Karen and I would wander off on our own, on those nights.

 Various cousins & me (Karen is standing on the right; I'm kneeling in front of her).

I, or she, had one of those magic eight-balls.  You remember those!

And we got into the biggest argument that we ever had, over what "outlook good" meant.  She, for some reason, thought "outlook good" actually meant "bad".  I don't know if her interpretation was "overlook" good, or what exactly.  I was thinking the other day that if I could somehow find her on the internet and contact her, I would ask her if she still thinks that "outlook good" means something bad.

I kept arguing with her, telling her that "outlook good" meant "good", but she was so adamant about it that I began to doubt myself.

Funny how the strangest, most inconsequential things stay with you.  Today, if somebody says, "outlook good", I think, oh, Karen said that was bad!

Bottom line, I was not only an idiot savant, I also was way smarter than Karen, even though she was a better singer and she had sky-blue eyes, while mine were a nondescript muddy brownish-green color.

Those card parties, too, hosted a whole ton of smoking.  Everybody smoked.  Well, not my mom.  Most of the women didn't.  But the men would be shuffling those cards with cigarettes dangling out of their mouths, smoke wafting out of their nostrils.  Yea, yea, smoking is bad, but I remember my dad smoking, and it makes me feel closer to him, remembering that.

Of course, my baby brother was asleep in his crib in the adjacent bedroom, but it appears that the prodigious smoking had no lasting ill effects on him, since he, like Karen, has those sky-blue eyes, and a clear complexion.

The next morning, there would be Sunday mass that we were compelled to attend, although my mom was pretty good about herding us out of the church at communion time.  It's not that she was a heretic; she was just practical.  Get out of the parking lot before everybody else exits the church, and we'll be on our way home; home to a roast beef dinner (never really liked roast beef; still don't, but still...)

My big brother sitting at one end of the table; my dad at the other.  My baby brother in his high chair, my mom getting up and down to bring more dishes to the table.  Me, there in the middle (I've always been in the middle).  Ice cream for dessert.

My folks never exhibited any signs of a hangover from those Saturday night card parties.

We obsess too much nowadays about everything being in its place.  Compartmentalize everything.  We don't actually have too much fun.

I thought I would consult the Magic 8-Ball about the meaning of life.

It told me:

So, I'll get back to you on that.

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