They started out as a sporadic disruption to the quiet night; an unexpected boom like thunder. Much like a storm the bangs increase in occurrence and intensity until tonight they make their climatic finale. The explosions of fire crackers, fireworks and sparklers all have a stage call tonight at dusk. With the anticipation of this fine show, many families have created a set of rituals that have been in place for decades. For me, I have spent almost every one of my 41 Fourth of July’s at my Grandma Foster’s house. Nothing means home more to me than her house. It has been my true north; my consistent place, my unfaltering safety net. The Fourth of July picnic at her home was the first official picnic of the year. It was a time to come over, swim in the pool, enjoy home cooked food and socialize. My grandmother housed all seven of her children at this home. At times she housed a few of her 16 grandchildren as well. And usually a fair amount of this clan would return for this one picnic. With the passing of years and the addition of 13 great-grandchildren, it would not be uncommon to have well over 30 family members together for the holidays. We would fill the pool, filter out to the front yard, play games upstairs and sit at the kitchen table.
Walter, Uncle Mark, me and Uncle Scott ~1978ish.
As a young person I highly anticipated this picnic. My brother always had big plans to create the best “firework” ever. Usually it involved some of my dad’s gunpowder discretely taken from the gunpowder horn my dad kept for his antique gun. Five miles south at my grandma’s house my uncle Scott would also be creating his explosive concoctions as well. At our arrival the two of them would set up their creations and we would test them out. I believe neither ever created their true master piece, but each year they gave it a good try. The best thing about this picnic was that it didn’t end after swimming or even after the food was put away. This night the party went late. The shadows would start to get long with the setting sun. The adults would start packing up chairs and blankets, spray us down with bug spray and load us into the cars for the short ride downtown for the best part of the night; sitting on a grassy hill, surrounded by family, watching fireworks light the night sky.
Sometimes things change however, and the perfect picnic fades into memory. There are the divorces that left uncles or aunts or mothers uninvited. In 1989 I joyously goofed around with my 17 year old brother at that year’s picnic, not knowing it would be his last. Two weeks later he died in a car accident. Grandma and grandpa’s house turned into grandma’s house when grandpa passed away in the late 1990s. In 2008 grandma hosted her last Fourth of July picnic. At the age of 80 it had become too much.
Time marches on and changes are made. This year I hosted the Foster picnic. It wasn’t the same but it was a lot of fun! In a few minutes I will start to load chairs and blankets into the car and spray the kids down with bug spray. You see, I was taught by the best and my grandma’s traditions will live on in me; especially the potato salad. Happy Independence (Family Tradition) Day.