Wait. What? How can that be? Who doesn’t love fireworks? The anticipation, the whooshing sound as they fly into the air, the surprise when they explode, showering the sky with delightful colors. Everyone loves that, right?
No. Not everyone.
When I was a child, we would go to my grama and grampa’s house on Independence Day to set off fireworks. They had a long sidewalk in the middle of their (always) lush, green lawn and two water sources close by, which made for the perfect fireworks launch site.
Grampa spent a lot of time keeping that lawn lush and green. Mainly because he took great pride in doing so. Also because a green yard surrounding a house in Northern California during fire season is a good thing!
Fire season. Every summer, the state of California catches fire. It always has, it probably always will. The mother would say it was natures way of cleaning house. To me, fire is terrifying.
I always had anxiety during the summer, worried about the fire hazard (which was always posted in town on the Smokey the Bear Sign by the fire station.) I would see that sign, and my stomach would flip. Every fire that started in our area would send me into a silent anxiety attack. Silent because, I never told a soul about my fear.
I’m rather terrified of fire. Every summer I would make a list of things to take with me in case we had to evacuate (we never did, although the parents were evacuated a few times in my adult years.) I also kept a small suitcase packed under my bed with some of those things. No one knew that I did that, but I was ready…just in case.
Fireworks require fire.
The dad and grampa would lay sheets of plywood over the sidewalk and lawn to create the perfect size fireworks perimeter. A bucket or two of water was strategically placed. Once they were ready, the family would gather (sometimes just us, sometimes the aunt and the cousins, sometimes others.) There was always watermelon. I think melon was a theme. (Hmm. I’m not a big melon fan…interesting.)
Anyhow, I digress. When it got dark, they would begin setting off the fireworks. I would begin the anxiety attack. I was always terrified one would fall on me and I would catch on fire.
Yes. That was my fear. Crazy? Probably a little!
Sparklers? They are the devil. Little balls of fire close to the skin. They can catch your hair on fire! Burn your skin! Poke your eye out! The devil I tell you! THE DEVIL!
The mother would inevitably try to make me hold a sparkler. In fact, she found joy in holding them way too close to me and taunting me because she knew I was afraid. I suppose that was her way of wanting to cure me of my “irrational fear”. Her words. It didn’t work.
I never outgrew that anxiety.
I don’t mind watching fireworks from afar. The cities in my area put on lovely displays. Backyard fireworks? No thank you. I fear one will land on me and I will catch on fire. I fear someone else will catch on fire. I fear someone will have one explode in their hand. I fear a dog will eat one.
I now live in a neighborhood where the neighbor’s all around me enjoy fireworks. They REALLY enjoy them. The weeks of Independence Day and New Years, they set them off for days. They are loud, they sometimes shake the walls, and I fear one will land on my roof and burn my house down. It only takes one.
Just a few more days of fireworks, and I can push that anxiety back down until New Years. Thank goodness fire season is only twice a year!
This holiday finds me a bit retrospective. The meaning of the day often gets lost in the picnics, pool-parties, barbecues, boat outings, and family gatherings that go hand-in-hand with a three-day weekend. I always take some time to reflect, remember, and honor those who have made it possible for me to live in this wonderful country with the freedoms that I have.
My grandfather on the mother’s side served proudly in the Pacific during World War II. He was a long-time Merchant Marine who found himself in San Francisco the day Pearl Harbor was bombed. Upon hearing the news, he went straight to the Navy recruiting office and signed up. He left his wife and newborn son behind to serve and protect our country and our way of life. I remember him telling me he was angry that we had been attacked, and he felt he needed to do his part.
He was awarded a Purple Heart and bore the scar on his stomach where he was shot. He would show us grandkids his scar now and then. It looked like a second belly button, and we grandkids thought it funny that he had a second belly button. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized the seriousness of his war wound. He also lost a good part of his hearing, the result of being too close to an explosion, and I never knew him without hearing aids. He served his country with pride. When he passed in the mid-80’s, we honored him with an honor guard and a tombstone which reflects his service in the Navy and his rank. He was especially proud that he was not an officer. He always saw himself as an every-man, and he would say that most of the officers we jerks (although he did once confess that he had a few friends who were officers, with a twinkle in his eye.)
My other grandfather was one of four or five boys (my memory is foggy on this one,) who drew straws to see who would go to war. They were afraid that no one would be there to care for their mother or families if they all were to die in the war. He drew the short straw and stayed behind to take care of his mother and his brother’s families. He was proud to serve in that way.
One of my grandfathers had a brother who died in the war. I can’t remember which one, and I don’t really have anyone to ask. I think it was the mother’s father, but I can’t be certain.
Ironically, both of my grandfathers were raised without fathers. They both had a fierce sense of honor and family.
The father who raised me served in the Army during the brief period of “peace” between the end of the Korean War and the beginning of the Vietnam War. He eventually landed on Guam, where if I recall correctly, he was the company clerk. “Kind of like Radar,” I was told when the TV show MASH was popular. We hear they had a really good time on Guam. I never heard him speak much about that time. When his four years were up, he returned to the states, got a job, married, etc.
I learned two years back that my biological father was in the Air Force. He was a medic. I don’t have a lot of details, and I’m not sure if he served during wartime. I think he spent most of his time in Alaska. My aunt his sister, sent me his Air Force photo for Christmas two years ago. It’s a wonderful photo of a young, handsome man who I never knew. The only photo I’ve ever seen of him.
I have friends and acquaintances who have served our country over the years, both in war time and peace. I recall hearing that a number of boys I grew up with served during Desert Storm. Timing is everything, and we were the right age for them to go. I recall at the time the mother telling me, “Every generation has been in a war.”
To all the men and women who have served our country, to all who have given the ultimate sacrifice, a simple thank you does not suffice. I am humbled and forever thankful for your service to ensure our freedom.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I have had a rough time with Mother’s Day for 20 years. That’s a long time. A dear friend of mine told me today, “Time to let go of that hold she has on you…”
My friend is right. I just haven’t figured out how to do that yet.
20 years ago, probably in the February-March time frame, I excitedly announced to my parents that I was moving cross country, from California to Florida. I had thought about it a long time, I had friends there, and the time was right for me to make such a change.
I made the three-hour trip to their place one Friday after work. I took them to dinner at their favorite local haunt. Once dinner was done, I shared my news, expecting support and undying love.
That did not happen. Quite the opposite in fact. The mother became terribly angry. She accused me of telling them in a public place so she would have to “behave” (I later learned what THAT meant!) Try as I might, I could not convince them that I was unhappy in my current situation. Why? Because…”All you need is your family. I don’t know why you always have to go looking for things you don’t need. You always do that. You don’t appreciate any of us!”
I stayed until Sunday afternoon, as which point I had to get out of there. The anger and hostility was too much to bear. It never eased up. In 19 years, it never eased up.
I moved in September and made a new life for myself. The next 19 years were spent at the receiving end of a furious mother. As each year passed, it became worse. I didn’t return to visit after a while because I didn’t feel I needed that kind of hatred in my life. Every trip I did make left me battered and bruised emotionally.
I came to dread all holidays. Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Christmas. Thanksgiving. Every single one of them.
She died a year ago April. The dread did not. I spent most of Mother’s Day crying and angry. Not because she is gone, because so many have loving mothers who they would walk through fire for. It pains me to know that I will never have that experience. Facebook is really good about showing all the love out there. I need to stay off Facebook on holidays.
I hate that she still has that hold over me. I picture her, wherever she ended up, pointing at me and laughing about it. She always told me that she would haunt me. For now she does. For now, until I learn how to release myself.