Happy 4th of July!
For those of you who do NOT live in America, today is the day we celebrate our independence from the British. I could go into a long dissertation about how the whole "No taxation without representation" which was once a reason to revolt is now, sadly, a way of life here in the US.
But that's not the purpose of this blog.
The purpose of this blog is to make people laugh and, as you know, my endless quest to be cool has been a source of amusement for many of you for a long time.
And today, since it's the Fourth of July, I have a good one. (BTW, the funny joke some of us make around here is, "Do they have a Fourth of July in England?" Some of you are going to get it, some are not.)
This story comes from my mid childhood, I think I was ten, maybe eleven.
My younger cousins, who had long lived in Minnesota, moved to Wisconsin that summer. And we, having long lived in Michigan, had recently moved to Wisconsin. My mom was excited to be able to see her younger brother and his family more often than we had previously.
Now, in Michigan, some small fireworks were, in the 70's, legal to own and operate. (Laws in Wisconsin regarding fireworks have always been a little muddy. For a while it was okay to sell them. It was okay to buy them. It was NOT okay to own them. Sooo....)
Anyway, growing up in Michigan, my older cousins, my brother and I enjoyed running through the hot July 4th night, waving sparklers around. My cousin, Liesel, and I,both the same age had spent the previous July fourth writing words in the darkness with our sparklers, while my oldest cousin, Ken, had, family legend holds, leaned to throw a sparkler in the air and catch it. (Frankly, I can't believe that's true, but I know Ken...he might actually have managed it.)
During the summer in question, I was eager to be the older cousin. I knew we were spending the fourth with my younger cousins, Lindy and Ray and baby Bucky. Finally, I would not be overshadowed by Ken and Liesel's coolness. I would be the older, cooler cousin and I was READY to teach these kids how to play with sparklers! (Living in Minnesota, where fireworks were verboten, Lindy and Ray had never actually touched a sparkler. I was SO going to rule this holiday!)
But, as readers of this blog know, there are forces in my life that strive daily to keep me from my goal of being cool. This time around it was my Aunt Jan.
To say Aunt Jan is a little uptight is a bit of an understatement. She's a lovely, hardworking, dedicated, God-fearing woman who has uptight and very cheap. She's the woman who brought cheese slices to McDonald's because a cheeseburger was $0.39 whereas a plain burger was $0.29 and she was not about to pay the extra ten cents.
She was also super over protective. And this is coming from someone whose own mother didn't let us watch the TV show Happy Days because Fonzie was a high school dropout and therefore a bad influence on us. Aunt Jan made my mom look like some kind of free love hippie.
Knowing this, I should NOT have been surprised when in the late afternoon of July fourth the following happened:
Uncle Dean and Aunt Jan lived on a large property that shared a parking lot with a small church and a large school building. For a ten/eleven year old there was almost endless space to run through the night, sparkler in hand. Unfortunately for this ten/eleven year old, it was six thirty and practically broad daylight.
Aunt Jan: We have to get these sparkler things done so the kids can get their baths in.
Back in the day, getting your baths in was the MOST important thing.
Sarah(to her parents): MOM!
Mom: Shhhh....just go along with it. Your cousins are smaller.
Sarah: But MOM...sparklers don't work when it's bright outside.
Mom: Go stand in the shadow of the church. It's darker there.
(Right...and as bad as that was, it was about to get worse.)
Aunt Jan: okay, so we're going to do these sparklers. Now, children, sparklers are fire and you can and will die if you do not use them exactly as I say...
(See, where I grew up, sparklers were the training wheels of fire works. Even today, in our ultra sensitive, don't go anyplace without three immunizations, a helmet, and a dietitian, I see four year olds running around with sparklers. I'd been using sparklers since I was barely out of diapers. My cousins were, except for baby Bucky, above the age of six. Aunt Jan's safety speech was, in my experience opinion, nonsense.)
Several minutes later, she finished her lecture and we were ready!
No we weren't. Because then this happened.
Aunt Jan: okay, children, now I'm going to mark out the spaces where you can stand while you're holding your sparklers.
She started making marks in the dirt, circles really, around the younger kids. This time my brother, who was seven or eight a the time, raised a protest. He'd been running up and down sidewalks for a couple years already. The idea of standing in a circle roughly the diameter of one of those plastic pools you get for little kids was unacceptable to him.
It was KILLING ME.
Oh, and each circle was about ten feet away from every other circle and any building. By the time Aunt Jan got to where I stood, firmly locked in the one shady patch by the church, I was angry. And I'm not a person who's ever been able to keep my feelings off my face. You pretty much know exactly how I'm feeling by looking at me. At eleven, I was a shade taller than Aunt Jan and my facial expression must have been pretty fierce.
Aunt Jan: Okay, well, Sarah, you're older, so I guess it's okay if you have a little more space. So you just stay in this box here. (She made a couple lines in the dirt.) I'll tell the little kids you get more space because you're older.
Oh, hey, thanks. Thanks.
My mother sidled up to me at some point and said, "When we get home we'll do it right. Just go along with it for now."
I should mention that no, we never did MAKE IT UP. I never got to be the oldest cousin showing my younger cousins how cool I was, how I could throw a sparkler in the black night and the pick it up in the dark without burning myself because I knew which end was hot. I never got to run in that massive open space unbounded by streets and houses.
Aunt Jan then handed us each a sparkler. One. Singular. Again, my brother and I had run the sidewalks of Michigan with at least one sparkler in each hand. And here we stood, ten feet apart, in broad daylight, waving one sparkler.
Aunt Jan: okay, now, Michigan cousins, show your Minnesota cousins how it's done.
Impossible. My brother and I glared at her, then at each other, then waved the sparklers in the daylight and said, "yay," with no enthusiasm. Lindy and Ray didn't understand the appeal. I don't blame them.
Now you're probably wondering where the fathers were in all this. Where was Uncle Dean and my dad?
They were on the other side of the church, hidden from view, tossing wads of lit sparklers into the sky. They were standing there, drinking beer, chucking sparklers around and having a blast. Since I was closest to the church I heard them talking. After tolerating one sparkler in the circle, I slipped away to see what they were doing.
Both men shushed me, fear in their eyes at being found out. Sure enough, Aunt Jan sensed someone was having fun, and had to run around to squash it.
Aunt Jan: DEAN! Do NOT let the children see you doing this!
Dean: what will it hurt?
Aunt Jan: They will want to do it too!
Sarah: Well duh. Dad, can I do it?"
My dad, much like most men I grew up around, lived in fear of my mom. Seriously, anyone who says it's a man's world never grew up with women like my mother and my Aunt Jan. Or my grandmothers. Sure, they might seem like good, supportive wives. But reality was that the women in my family ruled everything. The men worked, brought home money, and then asked permission to do pretty much anything. "Go ask your mother" was the battle cry of most dads I knew.
Dad: Go ask your mother.
I wasted no time running back to the circles. This time I whispered in my mother's ear. She frowned a little then said, "Okay, one. And don't let anyone see you."
I ran back, elated. My brother glared at me. Sorry, bro, this was an every man for himself situation.
So I got to run in that back parking lot as the sun started to set. I could almost pretend it was late at night, and I made that sparkler last longer than any other sparkler ever had.
My cousins eventually grew up, we all did. We lost track of sparklers for a while, but now we all have kids. Mine are pretty old. Ken's kids are older than mine, but everyone else has younger kids. I never ask if they do sparklers. I know my kids did. Because, when you're a kid, what's better than staying up late, and playing with fire?
Wherever you are today, if you celebrate the Fourth of July, get a pack of sparklers, (they're cheap) and light a few. Write a word or two in the darkness. Run down a hill and watch the sparks fly behind you. Throw one in the air and watch it fall to earth like a colorful meteor. You won't regret a minute of it.
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