Thursday, July 4, 2013

Of Family and Freedom

The Fourth of July.  Independence Day.  America’s Birthday.  

Waking up today brings me back to Jackson Park.  How many years did we picnic there, I wonder?  Grandma would start packing the day before, would have been talking about it for days on end and I would have been committed to doing any number of things.

“Krissy, can you bring that upstairs?”

“Krissy, take that downstairs.”

“Krissy can go with you to hold the picnic spot.”

“Krissy will help you set up.”

“Krissy can watch the kids while you do that.”

No wonder I associate work and activity with happy days.

It was always Yvonne’s birthday party on the 4th of July, too.  Her birthday isn’t the 4th, but when we were very little I thought it was and that she got a bigger party because her birthday was in the summer, not in the winter like mine.

A testament to my foster family is that I never felt as though Yvonne, my foster cousin, had a bigger party because she was “real” family.  But only because she had a summer birthday.  

In fact, looking back at all those family gatherings, I never felt as though I wasn’t one of them.  I never was made to feel like an extra or a burden or anything but family.   All holidays included a mix of unrelated personalities, but summer holidays even more so.  

And food.  Oh my word the food!  Potato salad and potato chips.  Hot dogs and brats.  Hamburgers and steaks.  Fresh baked and store bought.  Spread out on plates and platters, in and out of coolers, above and below picnic tables.  Eating would begin for the set up/saving table crew as soon as we got there and end when fireworks closed the day.

At some point on the 4th of July, the cousins would inevitably walk around Jackson Pond.  I see us now following Grandpa, trying to match his endless stride.  Someone would dip their toes in the pond, someone would try to skip a stone, someone would trip, someone would catch someone else.  A pack of chattering, laughing, sugar-highed kids.  

The years and memories mix together, a kaleidoscoping montage.  I don’t remember which belongs to when.  How old were we when we stopped at the little bridge and Ron ran down to the water?  I see us there, clearly.  Or when Kendra’s fluffy hair and baby smile made their first appearance?  I anxiously, happily watched Cheryl laughing along from the car to the picnic table with her new bundle of joy.  

Yvonne and Shari and me swam one year from one end of the pool to the other – width wise, of course.  I wore a blue two-piece with white trim.  I guess I was about 9, maybe 8?  

Logically I know there were stormy, too cold, too hot, too buggy 4ths of July.  But I can’t remember them.  I see the trees, the lagoon, the boats floating along, fishers of carp and moss, endless ice tea, card covered tables with laughing players, Frisbee-catching, lawn dart-throwing, baseball-tossing smiling faces.

Independence Day was a big deal to us.  Our picnic site was populated by several generations of military personnel of various ranks who had served through war and peace.  This group, this collection, this family understood the sacrifice associated with American freedom.  


I have since tried to share those things with my own children, but our experiences were different.  They were raised in a different place in so many ways.   They almost always saw fireworks, but never from the hood of a car in Arlen’s parking lot.  We usually had some kind of picnic, but never crowded with so many stranger/family/friends as Jackson Park.  

I hear Barbara Streisand singing as I write today.

Memories light the corners of my mind. 
Misty water colored memories, of the way we were. 
Could it be that it was all so simple then?
Or has time rewritten every line?
If we had the chance to do it all again
Tell me, would we?  Could we?

That's the real American story.  We have the freedom to enjoy our families, our homes.  To find happiness.  To share differences of opinion and history.

Happy Birthday, America!  Someone stop at the little bridge in Jackson Park for me today and throw a rock in the creek on my behalf.

To order a copy of 
A Book of Pages About Crossing Bridges 
or A Friend Named Jesus, 
please visit my website:  Writer's Pages
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