I am not a big fan of the 4th of July. I do not like having things explode all around me for hours on the evening of the 4th. I also do not like the racket during the days and nights leading up to the holiday. All of the noise reminds me too strongly of the sound of firearms and that is not a sound I care to celebrate.
Somehow though, I managed to raise a daughter who loves every holiday and takes advantage of these opportunities to bring her family together. This 4th of July, my lovely daughter had everyone who was available, over for dinner. After dinner, we gathered up blankets and kids and trudged to the nearest city park hosting a fireworks display.
Upon reaching the park, we wisely chose to lay our blankets near the top of a hill, further from the display. The hill allowed us to look up more comfortably and being further away gave us a little more room. It did not protect us from the bugs, which bothered my oldest grandson to no end. I felt bad they bothered him, but I reminded him we were invading their space, not the other way around.
It has been years since I went to a fireworks display. I had forgotten how beautiful the night sky can be when explosion after explosion reveals beautiful lights and colors. Seeing the display while surrounded by 4 of my 5 grandchildren allowed me to see the sky through their less jaded eyes. Bugs and heat were both forgotten as we ooh-ed and aah-ed at each new burst of color.
About halfway through the display I started having an incredible craving for homemade ice-cream, preferably with fresh strawberries. Normally I don’t care for homemade ice-cream, but after my mom married my step-father, his traditions became our traditions and homemade ice-cream was an integral part of the annual celebration.
When my children were growing up, their step-father and I would load them up in the car every 4th and we would head to my parent’s lake house at the Lake of the Ozarks. Once there we spent a lot of time swimming off the dock, playing card games, working on puzzles, and planning and cooking large meals. My girls learned the fine art of trash talking their opponents while playing gin rummy with their grandfather. For those who chose to go fireworks shopping with him there were also lessons in negotiating prices to be learned.
There was one firework stand in particular whose owner looked forward to my step-father showing up every year. Although he would roll up in his latest Cadillac, dressed in whatever the current summer style was, he would talk poor from the minute his feet hit the ground. Rolling his big brown eyes, he would do his best to portray himself as the little guy being taken advantage of by the big-time owner of the stand. The back and forth between the two of them would have everyone within earshot rolling with laughter. At the end of the sale, he would have the trunk of his Caddy filled with fireworks and the owner of the stand would have made the biggest single sale of the holiday.
In my memory there were a lot of hamburgers, chips, corn on the cob, and fresh fruit consumed during these holiday visits. The kitchen wasn’t always open, but there was always food laid out on the counter that you could help yourself to whenever the urge hit you. Every year though, the main event, the treat to look forward to, was my step-father’s homemade ice-cream.
The afternoon of the 4th would be spent preparing the ice-cream maker and getting all the ingredients together. There were frequent stops in the process to see how the ice-cream was coming along. Frequently, it was required that one of the children would have to taste the ice-cream in progress to make sure everything was coming along correctly. Once the ice-cream was done, it would go into the freezer until dark.
My folks’ lake house had a wall of windows and a patio that faced the lake. Across the lake from their house was a resort that hosted an annual 4th of July display. After the dinner dishes were done, the ice-cream would be brought out, along with fresh-sliced strawberries and containers of chocolate syrup. Everyone would load up a bowl with the ice-cream and condiments of their choice and then the lights in the house would go out as everyone picked a place, inside or outside, to watch the majestic displays.
It’s been a good ten years since my parents sold their lake house. My step-father had gotten to a place where he was no longer healthy enough to make the 3 to 4-hour drive to the lake and it no longer made sense to continue owning the house. My then boyfriend and I went down and helped clean up and close the house after it was sold and it was a sad day for all of us. There were lots of memories that we closed up in that house when the door was locked for the last time.
The selling of that house left a big gap in the lives of my children and I and we haven’t really established a definitive holiday tradition since. We all tend to do our own thing on the 4th without a thought to the past. As time went by, I’d actually kind of forgotten the traditions we enjoyed when we would go to the lake for the holiday.
But this year, laying on that blanket, surrounded by children and grandchildren, I would’ve given almost anything to be sitting in the dark at the house on the lake, enjoying one more bowl of my step-dad’s homemade ice-cream with strawberries and chocolate sauce.