Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The year the dock nearly blew up on the Fourth of July.


I grew up in the Hermitage Club outside of Newtown. There were 20 some homes on nearly 300 wooded acres and only three kids: Alex Fibbe, my brother Dave, and me. It had been a bachelor's hunting and fishing club in the 20s and when the men became of age to marry and settle down, the incorporated the property and built year-round homes.

It was the 1960s so we played all day in the woods, ran home for dinner, then ran back out to play until dark. Keys were left in the ignition of the cars and rarely was the house locked.

Alex, Dave and I created intricate bicycle routines in advance of the annual Fourth of July picnic. I was so unused to company that it would give me a nose bleed; the sheer excitement of all those people playing all those games thrilled me to the bone. At the 'picnic tables,' which was the name we cleverly bestowed on the entire area designed for community gatherings, the adults and kids would play the game where you put a name on someone's back and then try to get them to guess who they are: Mark Twain, Richard Nixon, John Glenn. Mae West. It was so fun. Especially when a man was a woman! We looked especially hard for these gender-hilarious pairings. This was also the site of horseshoes. And firecracker snakes blithering their black entrails out on the sidewalk or the big flat rock you could lift up to find a motherlode of worms.

At the lake, we nearly drowned trying to get the greased watermelon into the inner tube and chilled out,  water logged, by tossing eggs to each other on the shore to see which partners could get furthest apart without breaking their eggs. We played the same game with water balloons.

As the day turned to night, we got ready for the annual fireworks extravaganza thanks to one of the resident's commitment to obtaining fireworks in Tennessee. The dads would build mortar shells and other serious launching devices, waiting until everyone was really liquored up to set them off. A time honored tradition, to be sure.

Sparklers were handed out early, burning down to the stub as you wrote your name in script, over and over again. My brother, Alex and I huddled over near the cottage by the lake, the creepy one that was not inhabited year round. I ran to let my mom know to get everyone organized for our show.  I bossed everyone around even at eight, maybe especially at eight.

With great somberness we walked the folded flag to the flag pole on the hill, overlooking the lake. We unfolded it, as though in every one of the 13 folds was a hidden prize. And we raised it so it could wave to us all. We took rituals very serious back then. We took American Government very serious back then. And we especially loved red, white and blue displays of family and friends and laughing and greased up watermelons and that one drunk guy every year. I had no idea if we were Republican or Democrat. I don't even recall those being words of interest until I was in my late teens and started to think about voting.

Later that night, as our dads stood on the dock ready to launch the fireworks, one of the first ones backfired and set the entire Rozzi-worthy load of them off. It was thrilling and terrifying. Dads running from the dock, others diving into the lake. Luckily, no one was hurt. It was a near tragedy. And that was as close as I got as a kid to anything of real concern. The losses all came later. As they will. As they should.

Wherever you are, whomever you are with, I hope you have a day with friends and family and games and watermelon and a sparkler or two. I hope that you remember community and patriotism sans politics and sans loss. Those, I suspect, will come later.





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