Last night I had a dream. Lady Liberty came to me, with tears in her eyes, her garments sooty and in shreds and embers in her torch. I reached out to her, to hug her, but she moved away. Still, all over America people will still be having a traditional Fourth of July.
Like this one …
“This was written for another online family, a “Respond To All” E-mail group formed from patrons of the infamous AOL Author’s Lounge years ago, right before I moved to California with MSOM. This piece of writing means a lot to me—always will. Lewis Grizzard was a famous Atlanta columnist who was one of the “Good Ole Boys.” His last act in this world was to marry his girlfriend in the hospital, while he was dying, so that he could leave one more lovely lady a house.”
A LEWIS GRIZZARD FOURTH
“I just hope heaven doesn’t run out of Camels and fried chicken”
Dear RTA Family:
I had plans for this fourth of July. Unfortunately, the plans cancelled and I found myself back at the house with nowhere to go and only the Lounge as a hangout, where I found most of my friends. This was comforting, but no solution. I felt a little sorry that NONE of us had anything much better to do than to spend a beautiful holiday talking big about sex when it is common knowledge that none of us are getting any. Okay. I have prospects. But I digress.
Around two o’clock my niece popped in with a tall, lanky kid I had never seen before
Aunt Mari, can we borrow your grill?”
Two thoughts went through my head simultaneously. Who would possibly borrow someone else’s grill on the Fourth of July? And how was it that she knew with such certainty that I wasn’t using it?
“You can borrow the grill but I come with it.” It was okay—I’m not proud. And I’d be a fool to let the possibility of a free meal on the Fourth walk out my door with my grill. After a shocked look, Keely chimed back.
“Sure. We eat at the Park while the fireworks go off. We’ll pick you up.”
Then Keely marched into my kitchen and she and her lanky friend decided what food of mine should accompany the grill.
They reappeared at seven and rushed me into the car. We arrived at Tiffany’s house, where Tiffany and her husband Kevin finished cooking the chicken on my grill. Around eight, Tiffany’s mother arrived with the kids, two year old Jacob and eight month old Jade. Kevin and Scott, Keely’s beau, climbed in the back of the pick-up truck with the food, and the two vehicles made their way slowly along the city street about a mile to the park.
The park is typical small town. Even though I am technically in the city of Atlanta, each suburb is its own small town, and Chamblee was ready for a big celebration. Wall to wall people of every color, shape and size, kids and cars were everywhere. We parked about a quarter of a mile away, loaded the food into the baby carriages and carried the babies; walking toward a grassy field where about a hundred people were picnicking on the grass. Before we reached the picnic area–the soccer field, we waited for the “parade” to go by.
Every Fourth of July has a parade. In my old neighborhood, the city where I lived in what seems another lifetime now, the parade was a huge affair, with floats and high school bands and all sorts of marching groups. In Chamblee it was every kid that had a wagon or a bicycle–with bikes and kids dressed in their red, white and blue patriotic best. Banners waving and kids wheeling proudly, all marched down the main street behind the police car with its blue flashing light, two bicycle cops bringing up the rear.
When we reached the field, Tiffany took Jacob to play on the Kiddie Slide, a gigantic inflated runway rented for the occasion, and we laid out the food. Ribs, barbecued chicken, beans, potato salad—it was all there, and I could picture Lewis sitting on the grass with his childhood friend and advisor, Weyman C. Wannamaker on one side and his stepbrother, comic writer and local character, Ludlow Porch (his real name) on the other. Lewis never minded sitting on the grass. He fit in with real people like Tiffany and Kevin and Angelique and Keely and Scott and me.
Around nine-thirty, right before the fireworks, the police shot out the street lights. (This caused me some concern. First of all, the policeman wasn’t exactly a great marksman and it took almost an entire chamber of BB’s with his BB gun to take the two fluorescent bulbs out. When I looked worried, Kevin assured me this was SOP–Standard Operating Procedure).
“They do that every year. The park won’t turn the lights out but the state will come out and replace the bulbs.”
It sorta made sense. This was Chamblee. I lay on my back, waiting for fireworks or stars as Keely, my niece, tossed baby Jade up and down, and angelic, curly-haired Jacob dismembered another orange section, his idea of a holiday dinner. Angelique shouted, the only way to be heard over the noise, and I sat up, looking around me. There was a flag lit on the field, and the beautiful notes of the Star Spangled Banner began.
“Oh say can you see?”
The first rockets sprayed a starburst into the dark sky. Baby Jade stared upward, transfixed, then waved her arms at the pretty colors so far out of her reach.
“By the dawn’s early light.“
The show continued, whirligigs and squiggles, and then a projectile opened to release what looked like thousands of golden butterflies, winging their way to earth. I watched Jade, wondering if this might become one of her first memories. She was not frightened, even when the explosions were so intense that we could feel a percussion recoil from them.
“The rocket’s red glare
Bombs bursting in air
Gave proof…through the night
That our flag was still there.”
The show ended with the usual earsplitting cascade of everything left in the piratectic’s packing case, and we left slowly, following the other weary revelers in the dark. Lewis, Ludlow and Weyman faded into the memories that they are now, and I had one overwhelming conviction. Next year, although it would be in a different place, it would be fireworks for an Ole Goat and his Squid. And the Squid was in one heck of a hurry to get back to the duppie and find out how the Ole Goat was faring in the land of Nuts and Flakes.
by Mari Sloan
(the Squid) 1999