Somebody’s Ringing the Bell

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My uncle would bring fireworks and Dad would grill Italian sausages and burgers on the grill. All our relatives came, and we swam in the pool. I can still smell cut cucumbers in the kitchen, and at night, just around dusk, Uncle Bob would set off fireworks and neighbors all sat on stoops and at picnic tables and on the grass in our yard and watch.

It’s easy to look back fifty years and see events differently, like looking through the smoke from bottle rockets, but some things are clear.

Like the music, which sometimes was probably Sousa and Cohan, but I recall more often it being the thin tin sound of a transistor playing late sixties music of the day, like the Beatles or the Beach Boys. Over at the beaches of Point Lookout the hot sand was spotted with blankets and the smell of Coppertone, and radios played and I lay still with my eyes closed. They burned a bit from the sun as I listened to a dozen different conversations of surrounding ladies in beach chairs. I can hear someone say to someone else she thought I was asleep, and then something about how the sun can tire you out and the waves too can tire you out, but that wasn’t it. I was just listening and smelling the lotions and pushing my heels into the sand.

In the ice chest we had hard boiled eggs and Tupperware with salad, some sandwiches and potato chips. I was young though, very small, and I don’t recall much more.

But on the Fourth at our house we had fireworks at night and neighbors and relatives sat around clapping as fireworks exploded above us. The screen door was in constant motion, and everyone was talking to someone else. It was the Fourth and flags flew everywhere. It had been less than ten years since they added the last two stars to the grand old banner, and the country was not nearly at rest—race riots and war protests ran rampant. Johnson or maybe Nixon was in the White House, but all a kid my age cared about was the food, baseball, the music, and the sounds of friends and family laughing, remembering.

It was as if on this particular day, everything was going to right itself; no one was starving and no one was at war, just for the day. At such a young age it was easy to believe that everyone everywhere was having sausages and hamburgers and clams, and everyone was listening to the Beach Boys and playing ball. What an illusion that was, what a beautiful spin.

And yet it is the very backbone of this day, that illusion, that idea that we might still hold those same truths to be self-evident. And despite a fading memory, it was that belief then which has survived—that we wanted to share this day, this idea, with everyone. We honestly and with declaration wanted everyone to sit at our table and share in that feast, sit back and watch the rockets’ red glare. We were together on that, yes, we were together. Families, sharing the day—together, and we knew, I mean we knew it so well it wasn’t even discussed, that this is how it should be for anyone who wants it to be that way.

Man how I’d love to share this, the idea of this day, at picnic tables everywhere, families together who want to be part of this, sitting together, reunited at picnic tables listening to music, laughing, having Italian sausages and hamburgers and clams, some chips, and knowing no matter the struggles sometime faced, they faced those struggles together, equal, in pursuit of some greater happiness they don’t even know yet but dream of, hope for.

Today I’ll grill, watch some fireworks tonight out over the River above Yorktown, where the dream was secured so long ago. And I’ll listen to music, like Paul McCartney, who right now in the background is singing, “Someone’s knocking at the door, do me a favor, open the door and let ‘em in.”

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