Posts Tagged ‘4th of July’

July 4th Is Here Again

July 4, 2010

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!

Glory Day

July 4, 2008

Those of you who went to school with me will remember this poem, written one July 5th during my college years. I remember it was a July 5th, the day after the 4th of July. I took my chair and paper out to the northeast corner of our yard, where an old raspberry patch had gone back to nature, and a grove of fairly young maples whispered and dreamed together at the edge of the field. Behind me, the north wall of the barn was covered with Virginia creeper, that ubiquitous vine of the Midwest. I think this is probably my favorite of my own poems.

“Glory Day”

We found the old cat one hot Glory Day

In the steamy weeds, swelled to twice his size;

Green glory thunder echoed in his eyes

As we laid him out where the smell of hay

And green maple shadows would make the flies

Forget him; and watching the heat waves rise

From the wind-mirroring beans we covered him with clay.

There was lightning low in the sky away

Off, and a distant rumbling down the road;

The Virginia creeper whispered to the wagon

It covered like time-snails’ tracks, the old load

Of bricks for building; something like a Dragon

Crawled south in the blur of wheat’s golden sway

When we buried a tomcat on Glory Day.


Hallowe’en may be the most fun, but the summer months are the most numinous. Hope Mirrlees sort of dismissed trees in summer, saying they are silent. For me, there’s nothing like a summer tree: that bright sunlight hammering on the visible surface of the crown — while within, below, there are the darkest and coolest of green and blue shadows.

The cornfields are present in the Deep Summer: those green mazes that come with the hot months and are taken down in the fall. Now, in this season, they stand as the portals to other worlds. If you don’t believe me, watch Field of Dreams. But we knew about it long ago, long before the movie. Farm kids have always known.

The best part of July 4th, of course, was the fireworks. When I was little, we had a ring-side seat: the country club to our west had an extravagant fireworks show, and we could see it all from our front yard. We’d gather in the dusk — family, friends, neighbors, we kids with fireworks of our own (loud, explosive things during the day, beautiful and fiery glowing things saved for the night). The adults sat in lawn chairs and noticed the mosquitoes. We kids wandered barefoot, from the road’s day-long-baked tar, now soft and warm, to the sharp gravel at the verge, to the cool grass of the yard’s edge.

The loud reports of the noise-bombs would roll clear around the Illinois horizon, 360 degrees; we could turn ourselves and follow the sound. The brilliant fire-blossoms unfolded in the sky like benedictions over the dark world.

“Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies,” wrote Edna St. Vincent Millay. “Nobody that matters, that is.”

On Glory Day, we were all alive. The night was warm and full of visible miracles. And the summer stretched on and on ahead, waiting for us, full of promise.