My mom’s birthday is on the fourth of July. As a kid, I thought all the fireworks that exploded over the hill in my grandparents’ backyard was the small town way of celebrating. Mom’s large Irish family filled the yard, the house, even the garage. More food than was reasonable was set out on long folding tables, on the back porch and in the kitchen.
I remember my cousins and my siblings running through the backyard, flashing in the night, with cotton strips tied around our heads. Shoving food in our faces, stopping long enough to chew before running off to chase lightening bugs or to light another round of sparklers.
Allow me the indulgence of romanticizing my youth. Don’t we all? We cull those golden images and burnish them to hold up, evidence of a life well lived.
If we don’t get back to Pittsburgh for the fourth, I feel listless and lonely. And especially so this year, since everyone was going to be there, except us. Too busy. Too long a drive. Too much other stuff. All day long, I was mindful of what my brother and sister might be doing. Of how they might celebrate Mom. Of what my uncle would bring in the way of fireworks. Of what my aunt would bake. I put off phoning my birthday wishes, because I was straight up homesick.
Nothing else could compare. Until this year.
We drove down a splintered and ailing stretch of Route 66, one of my favorite patches of Tulsa. We had burgers and sweet tea. We packed up our chairs and pulled into the drive in theater, without telling the kids what we were doing. Parked the car backwards, put down all the seats, opened a few bags of chips and watched a movie, and about 6 fireworks displays in the somewhat cooler night air.
We drove home in that kind of happy tired revery, everyone lost in thoughts. As much as I missed my mama and dad, and all my relatives in Pennsylvania, I was happy. Happy with a change of pace, happy to not be in hot crowds of people, happy to be in the twilight of a lovely night with just us.
Maybe my children will remember that night the way I remember my childhood. Maybe, some day, they will tell their own kids about the night they saw the sky alive with color, and Spiderman.
What’s your favorite family tradition?