With his own cheering section, the General marched proudly through town in his faded uniform that he took out twice a year for the Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades. His Band of Brothers all wearing the same faded uniform had seen better days just like their uniforms. This crew of Veterans from World War II was getting smaller every year, but today he marched side by side with the 4 remaining members of his unit. Despite all the Old Spice, I splashed on him you could still smell the moth balls on his uniform. While his knees creaked with age, he stood tall with his customary crew cut looking straight ahead and saluting members of the military and dignitaries. When the high school band started playing “You’re a Grand Old Flag” I noticed a sudden spring in their steps.
Finishing the parade, the General loaded his truck with as many friends as he could bring back to his house. Standing in the driveway with a cold beer was Grandma, wearing her favorite summer dress, apron and bouffant, which was starting to melt in the heat of the day. “You looked handsome in your uniform,” she said smiling and handing him the beer. “Change your clothes the charcoals are ready,” she said and returned to the kitchen to finish preparing her side dishes. She was the best cook in town and when she threw a party everyone came to eat.
In fifteen minutes, she yelled out the door “kids get in here!” As we filed into the kitchen, she handed each of us a bowl to bring outside. My mother was at the tables directing traffic pointing to where we should place the serving bowls, heaped high with my Grandma’s delicious salads, vegetables and casseroles. There was a whole table for just the salads. The next table was filled with homemade pickles, relishes, chutney and sauces. Followed by a table filled with cooked vegetables from Grandpa’s garden to include corn on the cob, green beans, peas and an assortment of squashes and vegetable casseroles. There was enough food to feed an army. My mouth was watering and I couldn’t wait to eat.
When everything was loaded on the tables and Grandpa had brought the first platters of meat from the grill, he said “let us give thanks.” We bowed our heads, and he began “Lord thank you for our freedom that we celebrate today, and thank you for gathering all of our family and friends to celebrate with us. Let us take a moment of silence for those who died for our freedom.” With everyone’s heads down, my cousin seized the opportunity to pull my braid. “Ouch,” I blurted breaking the silence. Shooting a stern look in my direction, he finished with “Let’s eat.”
A line consisting of dozens of cousins, aunts, uncles and half of the town wrapped from the back yard and around the house. Fortunately, they let the littlest children go first, so I did not have long to wait. Piling as much as I could carry on my plate, I found a spot under the big old Oak tree to eat. Soon I was joined by my brothers and cousins. Before long they started the See Food contests opening their mouths to show everyone the half chewed food. And, when that was no longer entertaining, they moved onto throwing the remains of their feast at each other. “Stop throwing your food!” broke the air like a firecracker. It was the General sent to deal with our motley crew. “Now clean up this mess and go play,” he commanded waving his big hand at us as if to say dismissed.
Despite the heat, it was time for our annual badminton grudge match, which gave the winning team bragging rights for a whole year. Last year my cousin Hank and his team won, and my brother Scooter was out to settle the score. “Scooter, I’m gonna beat you again this year,” Hank taunted. My brother put his hand out to stop me from charging at Hank. “Let’s beat him on the court,” he whispered. After hours of heated play, it was a dead heat between Hank and Scooter. They were tied and their teams were fading from the heat, so my Grandma suggested that we break the tie with a pie eating contest. It didn’t hurt that my Grandma’s pies were delicious. With their hands tied behind their backs, Scooter and Hank plunged their faces into the pies in front of them gulping and swallowing the blueberries. Raising his head up in victory has he swallowed the last bite, Scooter had earned the bragging rights for the next year.
As the sun began to set, it was time for Grandpa’s speech. If we sat quietly and listened, Grandma would come out with our July Fourth cake. Every year he told us the story of the Declaration of Independence. How our forefathers risked everything for our freedom to include our own ancestor Josiah Bartlett who signed the document for New Hampshire. I know that it was important to talk about the people that founded our country, but at the time it just felt like homework during the summer. Just when I couldn’t sit still any longer, I felt a hand on my shoulder pushing me back into my seat. I looked up to see my mother looking sternly at me.
After the longest 15 minutes of my life, I was rewarded when my Grandma walked out of the kitchen with a big chocolate cake with sparklers on top. “Yay!” we shouted and ran to her as she placed it on the picnic table. My aunt followed behind her with plates and forks. We all ate a big slice. “Yummy! Grandma this is the best cake ever!” we shouted.
Just when we were looking for an outlet for all that sugar, Uncle Mack walked out with sparklers for all of the kids. It started out as just fun waiving the sparks of light around in the dark. But, then the boys decided to start a competition to see who they could light on fire. Using the buddy system, my cousin Kirstie and I ran interference for each other to escape the boys. Running serpentine around the yard screaming, we avoiding being lit on fire. However, soon the noise was so loud that the parents couldn’t ignore it any longer, so they sent in the General. “What are you kids doing?” he bellowed from his lawn chair. When we didn’t notice, he stood up and ordered “Stop that now!” Knowing what would come next, the boys scattered.
Exhausted from running, I fell into my mom’s lap. While we were running for our lives, the parents had lined up the chairs in the front of the house to watch the fireworks. Resting back on my mother, I looked up in the sky to see the bursts of color that thundered over our heads. “Ahh,” I sighed. “What a perfect day.”