“America! My America!” Jordan shouts passionately as she comes pell-mell down the hallway and into the dining room. Mouse's red graduation gown floats out behind her, a Burger King crown is secured at her brow with a blue bandana and she's waving a lightsaber over her head, dangerously close to every light fixture she passes. This earns her a hearty round of laughter as “America! My America!” is the most memorable of Mouse's utterances from his sleep-talking (in this case sleep-exclaming) period a few years back.
“The lights,” I say, “Watch the lights!”
“Yeah, let's go to Oakland for the big lights.”
“No, the KITCHEN LIGHTS” I point up as her still-flailing lightsaber makes a wide arc and just misses the globe overhead.
“Are we going to Jack London Square?” Mouse asks, deftly flipping the omelet in the frying pan. When the kids were younger, we frequently spent The Fourth of July in Oakland, watching the fireworks display over San Francisco bay.
"We figured that since we're in a legal firework county this year, we'd go old-skool.”
"Why do I get the feeling that old-skool is going to suck?" Jordan asks, lowering her lightsaber long enough to pluck a sausage link from the plate on the stove.
“Running around the apartment complex with two sparklers apiece does NOT constitute old-skool.” Jay says as Mouse carries the eggs over from the stove and we all tuck in around the table.
“After breakfast,” Jay motions towards Jory with his fork, “lose the cape and we'll go get some fireworks.”
“The gown, you mean.” Jordan says, swishing a wide sleeve with a flourish, “It's a cap and gown, right Mom?”
“At the moment it's a crown and gown, but technically yes, I think you're right. Now eat.”
They return later in the day with fountains, an afterburner, Saturn Missiles, bang snaps, black snakes, sparklers and a Pagoda which they present with all the flourish of game show hostesses, reading the descriptions and warnings on each paper wrapper aloud to me while I shove syringe-fulls of medicine and water down Fat Lola's throat. She lolls her head on my knee and watches the children with glassy eyes.
Shortly after dark, we join our neighbors in the street and Jay lets Mouse do most of the setting up and lighting of the fireworks. There is some inexplicable magic in the smell and the smoke, the pop of flashers and the wail of a Whistling Pete, a slow-motion enchantment in the dusky silhouette of a child on a bicycle, riding circles in the street with sparklers trailing behind. Our own bounty pales in comparison to some of the other families and so when we're finished, we linger at the edge of the driveway, delighting in the flares and flashes up and down the street. Then someone, a few blocks away, lets loose with mortars, which burst up over the rooftops, reminiscent of our Jack London Square days.
We head on out to the backyard for a better view and drag the frame of the old futon from the porch out onto the lawn. With the futon flattened out, we can all lay across it, with our legs dangling off the side. In a month and a half, Mouse will be 18 and only Jory will still technically be a child, but for tonight we are all children, eagerly anticipating each glorious explosion in the night sky above us.
It’s funny how a thing can swell in your chest when you least expect it, but as we lie here on the folded-out futon, I think hell yes, it's my America and I love it with none of the rabid nationalism of the Right-Wing talking heads and all idealism of its Founding Fathers. I love it for what it was intended to be and what it may someday be again. Most of all though, on this night, I love My America for the small details like the smell of fireworks on the Fourth of July on a tree-lined street where children chase one another all old-skool, with sparklers throwing light behind them and the momentary reprieve in the madness of our daily lives where we are connected and happy and whole.
“America, my America” I murmur, reaching over to ruffle Mouse's hair.
“Mom, you're not gonna start singing that Lee Greenwood song, are you?” Jory asks.
“I'm going to try really hard not to. I promise.”
*Note: For our family 2007 marked the last good July 4th celebration. In 2008, the kids begged off to spend time with friends and by 2009, our daughter was gone. Like many bereaved parents, we avoid as many holidays as we can because they bring back memories of better times. I happened to be working on this part of our story today and thought I would share it as a way to try and celebrate or at least honor our nation's birth.