As a little girl growing up in northern California, by the time the 4th of July rolled around I was tanned down to my toes. The heat did not seem to bother me then, nor any of us. We would be up and out the door early in those summer days to head to the pool with our sack lunch in the basket of our bicycle. We did not return until dinner time exhausted from hours of swimming and fun.
We typically celebrated the holiday with family in our backyard with my Dad at the bbq and my Mom pulling out her potato salad and pink lemonade. After dinner we met up with the neighbors across the street to light off fireworks. The family across the street always put on quite a show what with the nailing of the explosives to trees and what not. Their elderly parents, Nana and Hy lived next door and they always joined in as well. My sister and I were very fond of Nana and Hy but always feared running into Hy when he was outside moving the sprinkler to another part of the lawn, which by the way, was every homeowners summer evening routine. In order to greet him Nancy and I would have to say "Hi, Hy." It was too much for us! These seemed like the safe and lovely days of childhood in an idyllic neighborhood. Doors left unlocked and children safe to play hide n seek until dark in the summer evenings.
For some reason the 4th of July when I was 4 years old has embraced my spirit in a way that I cannot explain all of these years later. I hearken back to this one 4th and see it as a transition point. We had finished our dinner and headed across the street for the big fireworks display in the neighbors back yard. The lawn chairs were all set up with a couple of chaise lounges for Nana and Hy. I was feeling nervous in my tummy because my sister had just informed me that because I was not spitting out my watermelon seeds like she was that I was going to have a watermelon tree grow in my stomach. My tummy had enough going on during a good day that this put me in a very familiar state of silent panic. Such is the secret pact between older siblings everywhere, traumatizing the younger ones with misinformation.
Nana called me over to her to sit with her on the chaise lounge. She whispered to me with her faint hint of beer and tobacco breath that she wanted to teach me something. She pointed up to the night sky barely turning from its light filled Azure hue and said "Do you see that little star up there, the only one brave enough to come out so far?" I nodded yes. She began to teach me the importance of wishing on a star. "Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have the wish I wish tonight." After a few tries I had it easily memorized and repeated it for her. She seemed pleased and squeezed me tight. I was grateful too as the fireworks were about to begin and they frightened me to the point of tremors. I knew I was safe sitting next to her.
The years went by and we moved out of Arden Park into a home that my folks had built. We changed schools and we lost touch with our neighbors. The 4th of July's of that time turned into my sister and our friends spending the day rafting down the American River and bbq'ng with our family in the evenings. We would still tan until we were a deep brown and I would still tremor silently when the fireworks would start.
I still look for the first star. I still make a wish. My wishes now are typically laced with such gratitude for the wanderings I have been fortunate to have. I am so grateful to live in a country with such a rich history. I honor the brave individuals who took on a dangerous ideal to bring freedom to the rest of us. I am even more grateful that this freedom allows us to express our concerns in an open forum. It is my wish that these freedoms we enjoy will remain sacred to us and that when we express our concerns that we do so with respect and dignity for one another.
Happy Birthday America.