One foot in England, but one foot forever in Iowa, the Fourth of July is the holiday that makes me miss home the most.
At least a hundred dollars worth of fireworks piled on our kitchen table displayed by my brothers and dad. The charcoal grill wafting in a special kind of aromatherapy. Beers taking up half the space in our fridge; hamburgers, hotdogs and a few side salads squeezed into the shelving where possible. My dad would do a quick pass through on the mower in the morning, the low buzz of the machine outside my window as I laid in bed, staring out across the fields.
If it was a good year for crops, the corn would be “knee high by the Fourth of July.” A sea of green tassels waving in the wind surrounding the house to the east, south and west. From our driveway, we could watch the procession of cars lazily streaming toward the small airport a mile down the highway for the annual Pancake Breakfast. The smell of buttery hotcakes, coffee and freshly mown grass blowing in the hot wind.
Last year, I was consciously collecting each of these memories knowing it might be my last Midwest celebration for awhile.
It was an organic kind of gathering at my parent’s home, with friends and family trickling in throughout the day. The collection of snacks, dips and beer coolers growing with each new arrival. Cousins playing giant Jenga and croquet in a yard pockmarked and rock hard from weeks without rain. Country music playlists straining from makeshift speakers of iPhones propped up in glasses. Cans of Busch Lite passed around, sipped over small talk, while we waited for the grill to gift us the various barbecued meats that would weigh down our Independence Day-inspired paper plates.
Our bellies full and feeling slightly buzzed, we became impatient for dusk, the dimming of the lights for the main event. The flicker of fireflies across the horizon brought out the sparklers for the younger kids. Even they would be bored with its hint of safety, eventually asking for the Roman Candles and the bottle rockets stuck in empty beer cans. It was only a matter of time before one of the adults was letting one fly from fingertips in a screaming high-pitched whistle and crack.
The dogs would have to be put inside, ushered to the basement to wait out the tiny bombs and explosions of a hometown celebration. A beer run into town to the nearest gas station to restock, the youngest of the new drivers chauffeuring an adult to Casey’s, usually whoever also needed a secret can of chew or a pack of cigarettes.
And then it was time.
Lines of pick-up trucks, tail-gates down and parked in our yard, filled with people in lawn chairs facing the sky above the tiny airport. Too dark to see, we used the glow from our phones and flashlights to grab a few more beers and arrange the blankets as we settled in for the display. The little kids grouped together, or on laps, waiting for the first shower of sparkles.
Last year I sat next to my Grandma as we “oohed” and “ahhed” at the fireworks that dripped like golden weeping willows and those that crackled in colorful shooting stars. I was grateful that the finale seemed to go on forever, the embers of orange shooting higher into the air one after another. The reds, and blues and yellows and whites of the lights creating a spectacle that filled the sky above our small town of Atlantic.
We could hear the distant clapping and cheering of the crowds gathered at the airport as the sky faded back to black, a line of headlights and brake lights filing back into town signalling the end of another Independence Day celebration.
My Grandma and I sat in the driveway as stragglers packed away folding chairs and shouted goodbyes. Every so often, she would lean over to me to happily repeat it was the best fireworks display she’d ever seen. With a lump in my throat, I whole-heartedly agreed.