True Freedom

As a child, I loved the Fourth of July. I wasn't worried about my waistline back then so I'd enjoy a large helping of my mother's potato salad while I listened to her swap stories with my aunts. They'd reminisce about their old Hungarian neighbor, Mrs. Goulash, and how they'd gone to high school with a guy who was, at that time, one of the handful of successful black actors.

The talk would turn to the few other black celebrities and I loved hearing them go on about how Billy Dee Williams was so fine and Jayne Kennedy was beautiful. I wanted to look like Jayne Kennedy when I grew up and be married to Billy Dee.

There was never any talk of Thomas Jefferson or John Hancock, men who hadn't fought for or cared about the freedom of our black ancestors. There was no mention of the Continental Congress or of the Revolutionary War. No, the stories on the Fourth of July relived proms, tales of my grandma, and a pretty and popular girl they'd known growing up, Leslie Link. I loved that name and constantly wondered what Leslie Link looked like and how come she never came over to our house.

We had a health-conscious home so 99% of the time, there was no soda, or what we midwesterners call "pop", in the house. But on the Fourth, that all changed. I'd open the refrigerator to stare at the shiny red rows of Coca-Cola cans, all waiting to be snapped open and poured into small Styrofoam cups filled with ice. I'd gratefully take a cup, my name etched into the side so that I didn't have to use more than one during the day. Cup in hand, I'd go sit out on the back porch, watch my dad maneuver hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill. I'd sit and wonder about the stories of Coca-Cola originally containing cocaine. Even at eight or nine, I knew what cocaine was.

If we were barbecuing at my parents house, folks stuck to drinking that Coca-Cola. My parents, being Baha'is, did not drink and so alcohol was not served at their house. This was always a good thing, a protection against drunken, harsh things being said and old, bitter grudges being brought to the surface once more. But we were not always at our house on the Fourth. Sometimes we were at my grandmother's home, a mere six blocks away. There, the alcohol flowed more freely.

I remember sitting on my grandmother's porch, munching on Jay's potato chips and watching the fireworks we'd bought explode into the air. The cascades of shimmering red, white and blue sparks illuminated the darkness before descending onto the narrow brick street below. And then one of my aunts, tipsy and attempting to sit down next to me on the porch step, spilled her beer on me. It ran in rivulets down my leg and a small amount flowed into the dark recesses of my white K-Mart tennis shoes. The smell made me want to vomit but I was more worried that I'd get in trouble somehow for my shoes being messed up. So, I just sat there, not knowing what to say or do.

A few moments later, some folks who lived across the street from my grandma had also had too much to drink. They were arguing and someone threw a television out of the house. It crashed loudly on the concrete sidewalk, and the air erupted with curses flung back and forth. No one called the cops but we all went inside. The fireworks were done for the night. Later on at home, I snuck to the basement and put my shoes in the washer, erasing all signs of their beer desecration. They never seemed the same though. I always felt like I could smell that awful odor.

The rest of the summer always seemed somewhat lackluster, something of a let down in comparison to the joy of eating a hot dog and running through the front yard in the dark, sparklers ablaze in each of my hands. And all these years later, these Fourth of July holidays never seem to have the vivid liveliness that those childhood ones did.

Two days ago, I had no barbecue plans to speak of and living in LA where fireworks are illegal, I have not held a sparkler in my hand in quite some time. Although I can't do anything about the fireworks, I can and did make the barbecue plans and will be getting together with many of the friends who are essentially my California family. Moreso, I am celebrating my grasping the reins of life in a new, liberated fashion. There is nothing like having your life back, having your soul back, and that is true freedom indeed.


Jameil said…
ahhhhh. 4th of july. goood ole 4th of july. def. about my family and not the declaration of independence.
Anonymous said…
Hold onto those reins, Liz; then, when I'm ready, in relay style, pass them on.

Enjoy your Fourth.
Anonymous said…
So well written. Thank you for sharing that story.

velvet said…
Boy, I miss sparklers. They're illegal here, too.

Hope you had a good 4th. :)
Miz JJ said…
Two years ago I spent 4th of July in NYC. It was definitely an experience. Hope you had a great holiday.
Liz Dwyer said…
I hope you had an awesome time with your family and lit some sparklers on behalf of those of us who live in fire-prone areas!

The 4th was definitely enjoyed but I think my sons had the most fun of all, playing soccer, frisbee and chasing a dog. Plus, lots of people around to toss them into the air and give them piggyback rides. Ah, these reins of freedom...let me know when you're ready and I'm happy to share.

Thanks for visiting and leaving me a comment! I'm glad you enjoyed and hope you had a lovely 4th!

I did have a good 4th. Hope you did as well. Last night, despite the illegality, there were alot of folks blowing things up in our neighborhood. It got kind of smoky outside and really, when we've only had 3 inches of rain all year, it's not wise! It got me thinking again about how though there are so many other kinds of fireworks, nothing beats the gratification of holding a sparkler. I remember how my dad would get at least a dozen boxes and we'd burn through them so quickly. Those were the days!

Miz JJ
Oh yes, NYC on the 4th! I did that in 2002 and it was so much fun. All the people out in the streets gave everything such an energy. There were definitely a lot of people out here last night but of course, it's not the same as NYC.
the last noel said…
Oh, those memories were just wonderful. Thank you for them.
Liz Dwyer said…
You're quite was very comforting to remember those things.
Chas said…
its good to know families get drunk and act the fool all across America on the 4th. i wouldn't have had it any other way. lets hear it for taking back your life and grapbbing those reins! the world has big things in store for us.
Anonymous said…
yes, chas has captured it well...big, boundless, wonderful things indeed. So, walk it out!
Liz Dwyer said…
LOL! I'm just glad it wasn't my family throwing the TV. And yes, the world has big things in store for us. We just gotta put our noses to the grindstone! It wouldn't hurt to "Pop, Lock & Drop it" a few times either!

Thanks for leaving a comment! I'm Eastside walkin' it out right now!
Lovely reminiscence, Liz. I don't remember my family ever getting together or celebrating the 4th, but neighborhood kids always had sparklers and cherry bombs.

SF has fireworks, but usually, all that is visible is blurry colors in the fog.
Liz Dwyer said…
Oh, cherry bombs! I was so afraid of those things. My family didn't get together every 4th either. Sometimes folks weren't speaking or something like that, but the memories I do have are always fun ones.

I'm trying to picture fireworks through fog...I have a hazy image in my head! ;0

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