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For the Fourth: Making Peace with the Past

NPR broadcast a story recently noting that 87% of the households in the US will grill sometime over the 4th of July week-end. Wow! That’s a lot of charcoal and gas, burgers and ribs.

I do remember a July 4th, maybe 20 years ago, when I cranked up the charcoal grill, pouring lighter fluid on the briquettes and lighting the pile. I was living in Atlanta and was putting together a classic southern bar-b-que. I went inside to finish the fixin’s and gather the ribs to put on what I assumed would be hot coals. Yes, the coals were hot—way too

hot! I had stayed inside a bit too long and WOAH- there was fire leaping up the side of my townhouse! By the time I found my fire extinguisher, the bricks were singed with black soot, and unfortunately, with the spraying of the extinguisher, the hot coals became cold coals. Instead of a bar-b-que, my friends brought carry-out to save the day. Now that’s a memory of grilling to beat many!

Mixed memories

Once I sorted through that very mixed memory of that holiday celebration, I was flooded with other Fourth recollections. Some 35 or more years ago my partner and I packed a picnic and excitedly ventured out to the huge Austin, Texas, Fourth of July concert and fireworks. We spread our blanket, enjoyed sandwiches and strawberries, kicked back and listened to patriotic favorites. The concert ended with the classic 1812 Overture, with fireworks coordinating with the music. The fireworks were fantastic. And then we packed up to go home. Much to my surprise, I was covered with fire ant bites that hurt like the dickens! Instead of the delightful memory of the picnic and fireworks, I was left with days of pain.

There seems to be a bit of a pattern here: the mix of joyful holiday memories with leftover painful reflections. As I sorted through the years, I found more memories that fit the pattern. The amazing fireworks in the shape of the American flag along the coast in Bar Harbor, Maine, were followed by the longest traffic jam trying to drive off the island that I had ever experienced in my life.

Who can forget the exquisite synchronized pyrotechnic display in New York City? When living in Jersey City, I was able to observe the magnificent view of multiple explosions from our 24th floor balcony, relishing the bright lights from barges near the Statue of liberty, and in both the Hudson and East Rivers. What a sight to behold! We had no traffic to fight this time, we were already home. We just had a massive clean up after guests left for the night.

The year that I bravely entered the Atlanta Peachtree Road Race, the first time I had ever attempted a 5K run, was also a mixed blessing. I proudly completed the hot and hilly race, and possess a tee-shirt to prove it. But I also have the unfortunate memories of days of leg aches and muscle pains along with the tee-shirt.

Delightful Recollections

I began to wonder, are all good memories backed with some sort of pain, challenge or disappointment? I was delighted to pull forth some purely positive memories.

For example, standing on the sidewalk in downtown, if you can call it that, Alameda, California, for what they claim to be the U.S.’s longest Fourth of July parade was pure joy. I believe every pet, band, dance school, scout troupe, middle and high school, and then some, marched in that parade. What a pleasure to experience real community!

Visiting Australia over the Independence Day holiday brought forth a whole set of special feelings. I felt like a proud American watching "American Independence" fireworks over the tops of city buildings. I have also enjoyed many a bar-b-que with friends to mark our Independence Day, and have watched fireworks at safe distances, to avoid traffic, and enjoyed them just the same. All of these holidays bring up purely good memories.

Preserving for Posterity

What do I make of this stream of memories? Holidays, like Independence Day, are a receptacle within which we create memories with family and friends of events. The events are prominent because they are out of the ordinary, and as such, many are filled with positive emotion, and some with a smattering of, well, negative.

As we age, it’s fun to retrieve these memories, to sort through the places we’ve been on this day of the year, the people with whom we’ve shared the food and the fun. Sometimes, we question what to do with those memories. Do we keep the actual pictures in an album, so we never forget? Do we write a journal as a record for the next generation? Do we call or email that friend who we haven’t seen in years but with whom we shared those fireworks some thirty years ago? Or do we just pull them out, like I did this morning, place them on the table, dust them off to look a bit more closely, and then put them back in my head where they seem to belong?

I’m happy putting them back. I’m glad that I had the experiences, the fireworks, food, friends and fun. I appreciate that, at times, regretful memories can accompany these pleasant ones. I’m pleased that I can enjoy the positive memories and put to rest the not so good ones. I’m particularly delighted that I have the opportunity to create still new memories. And, yes, I’m curious how they will turn out and how, some years ahead in the future, they will fit within my catalogue of “Memories For the Fourth”.

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