Fireworks and Faulkner
“The past is not dead. It isn’t even past.” William Faulkner
The occasional booms and crackles serve to remind me it is Independence Day. The two days of clouds and rain allowed us to turn off the air conditioner, leaving the downstairs cool and quiet without the hum of the window unit as background noise. It is July 4th; we didn’t have to water 15,000 mums and asters; we didn’t have to worry about the pollinating corn; we didn’t have to run a single sprinkler. Tomorrow there is a heat advisory, but today we have reason…and time…to give thanks.
July 1980 continued the brutal stagnant heat of June 1980…except for one day. On the third of July, a random and unexpected storm front passed through Tarkio…and not much north or south…dropping the temperature thirty degrees and dumping two inches of rain on the farm we rented east of town. That storm was not just spotty; it was a spot of green in an otherwise record breaking dry spell. In no way are we in such a precarious situation these 36 years later, but I still recollect the immense relief and disbelief of 1980 when the rain swept in this weekend. The past isn’t dead…it’s not even the past.
We spent July 4th in 1980 at home, no fireworks, no family get together. Our baby wasn’t due for a few days, but I was weary and so was Blake. So we watched something patriotic on WTBS…an old movie in technicolor redcoat and blue…until midnight…not the 4th anymore, but the 5th…when came time to call up Millie and Charlie, have them come stay with little Lee, and head down to Fairfax.
I will never forget our neighbor across the street, Dorothy Brown, still awake at midnight…duly noting the arrival of the grandparents and the departure of the mom and dad. You didn’t put much past Dorothy.
It’s hard not to think of Ann as a firecracker baby, even though she waited until 9:08 the morning of the fifth to finally arrive.
This year, as we did thirty years ago, we celebrated the 4th of July with the big red barn as a backdrop. The cars that pulled into the driveway opened to reveal coolers and camp chairs and kids and fireworks. Soon, there were kids climbing the stairs to play in the only antique barn in mid Missouri with a ping pong table in the former hay loft. The thud of horseshoes and clang when iron met iron carried across the farmstead to the other side of the house where there was a hot game of catch which dissolved into laughter when fallen walnuts were substituted for the baseball. Kids and catch and croquet and horseshoes…the big red barn enfolds them all. The past isn’t dead…it’s not even past.
It warms my heart to see this generation of kids explore and make memories at their great grandparents’ farm: to swing on the same front porch, eat ice cream on the same picnic table in the same screened breezeway, play in the same fountain, and shoot fireworks in the same driveway their parents did.
My father watches from a folding chair older than I am while bottle rockets and other flotsam tumble off the metal roofs of the big barn and the shop after the shooting stars in the sky above have faded. Having the great-grandchildren there makes my folks happy; my father says he wants them to remember these times, to have a sense of this place, to carry with them and recollect as vividly as I remember summertime visits to my grandparents’ years ago.
They are well on their way. Every child with legs long enough takes a turn riding my mother’s three wheeled bike (giant tricycle, says Josh!) up and down the driveway. Levi is content to ride along in the back basket. Lizzie and Josh make certain to visit the fountain…turned on specially for the occasion after Josh remembered splashing in it on a previous visit. Abbie has her first lessons in grilling, taking gentle instruction on turning hot dogs and flipping burgers from her great-grandpa. Lizzie, with a keen nose for treasures, brings me two of the most antique gumball machine creepy crawlers still extant from a stash of treasures squirreled away by her grandma and great-aunt. Plans for a horseshoe pit of our own are in the works, renewing a tradition that lives in my memories from Granny and Grandpa’s farm in Holts Summit.
How much of what we are is tied to place? This old house, this landscape, these buildings, are part of my parents’ life work, a homeplace they renovated and renewed and repaired over four decades. But it is also part of our family history: a place our children grew up visiting and spending holidays, where we sledded and hiked, and picked fruit, and celebrated Christmas and New Years, played games, and planted flowers. Watching our grandchildren create their own traditions, like kids do, is a joy and an affirmation.
The past isn’t dead. It’s alive and shooting fireworks.