Happy Fourth of July! How can I not greet you all on this holiday, another of my favorite days in the year? I hope you’re enjoying the Deep Summer! Here, the last three days have actually felt like summer at last: blessed heat and humidity, perspiration, rooms that swelter until you can get a window open, arms sticking to the tabletop, fans blowing warm air around, and to sleep at night is like lying in a cast-iron frying pan, sizzling away . . . I love it! This is the season — long may it last!
Writing is going well, by grace! It was a banner week: 7,296 words written on the novel in the first three days of July! The story is building momentum, and I’m really excited.
Anyway, I was glancing back at 4th of July posts written the past two years in an effort not to repeat myself too much. (If you’re inclined to go back and review them for more of Glory Day, you can easily find them with the “search” function: last year’s was called “Thunder and Providence,” and I think the year before’s was called “Glory Day.”)
The posting today won’t be too elaborate — I’m about “written out” for the weekend (but you’ll agree the energy has been well-spent, right?). But here are a few more good 4th of July memories:
I had a wonderful uncle. I’ll call him “Uncle Art” (since that was his name). He had an ever-active imagination, a genuine sense of fun, and a mischievous streak a mile wide; and, being an adult, he had the wherewithal to carry out his schemes. On different occasions, he built a moving humanoid robot, made a long stop-action animated film using my Planet of the Apes dolls and dinosaurs, and populated my grandma’s garden with wooden gardeners who moved when the wind blew.
But in the estimation of us kids, one of the absolute best things he ever built was his 4th of July cannon. It was made of a simple, heavy pipe — maybe a yard long, and with a bore just slightly larger than a tin can. The bottom end was capped and welded shut; there was a hole for a fuse, and (like Gandalf) Uncle Art had a magical black powder that would explode with incredible force when fire was applied. Heh, heh, heh.
He brought that out to our backyard and set it up so that the barrel was pointing northeast, out over the cornfield. In went the magical powder charge, some wadded newspaper, two empty beer cans [provided by my parents — I won’t besmirch Uncle Art’s good name! — as far as I know, he never touched alcohol], and more wadded newspaper. We’d all stand well back, covering our ears, and Uncle Art would light the fuse.
Then would come a detonation that CRACK-ACKed as an echo off the barn, off the house, and thundered around the horizon, rolling away through the woods. Smoke and fire spewed from the cannon. The wadding was immolated, of course, and the beer cans were projected far, far out into the corn. Half the fun was running out into the cornfield to hunt for the cans.
Midwest farm kids know what a joyous place a cornfield is: your bare feet sink into the warm, fine soil that plumes between your toes like moon dust — it’s like running through an endless expanse of talcum powder. You have to hold your arms up in front of your face, because the edges of corn leaves are sharp — as you run, you end up with uncountable stinging, itchy, mostly invisible lacerations. Bugs tumble onto you and get down your collar. The field is like some kind of giant game board: you can go down the row or across the rows — there are two directions to move in. It’s a secret world of steam and green shadows. Sometimes there are strange clearings where some stalks have not grown well — a fairy ring deep in the field, hidden from the world. We used to love to build campfires in those when we were older and sit out until the sky paled, watching the stars and the meteors.
We’d usually eventually find the beer cans — or what was left of them. They’d be way out there, nearly to the timber line . . . barely recognizable, flattened and shredded — some ribbons of aluminum, the tiny corner of a logo or brand name remaining. We would scoop them up and proudly take them back to civilization.
Then Uncle Art would re-load the cannon, and we’d do it all over again.
One year, some horses were being kept in the little-used livery stable next door. After about two blasts from the cannon, a very irate lady marched into our yard and yelled, “Will you knock it off, already? You’re scaring the horses!”
Oh, I’ll bet we were. We were scaring the dead in the cemetery up the road. We apologized and knocked it off. But you can’t “knock off” the entire holiday, when things are blowing up all over. With all apologies to horses and dogs, whom I dearly love, the Fourth of July cannot be silenced. All you with sensitive ears, retreat to your stalls and basements, and give us this one day; we promise to be extra quiet for the next week. The Fourth is meant to resound — to burst and flash with brilliant sparks — blossoms of fire a mile high, a mile wide.
Happy Glory Day!