Our Fourth of July has gotten off to a rainy start here in the DC metro area. This morning, I lingered under a shelter that extends over the deck and thought a lot about the past while listening to the rain’s patter on the leaves of the woods behind the house.
I remembered Fourth of July celebrations at other people’s homes, running around as a kid with colorful sparklers and creating swirling patterns with their eye-dazzling light. I recalled backyard cookouts and pool parties I’ve attended in the past on the Fourth, where the main feature was waiting for dusk to arrive so you saw fireflies twinkling in the yard and experienced the excitement of the colorful fireworks being set off.
I thought about being in Williamsburg during one Fourth of July celebration. My parents took us to a wide lawn in Williamsburg, VA and my British friend H was with us. H and I both appreciated the comic irony of the evening — the two of us, Brit and Yank, watching the celebration of the colonies’ independence from the British Empire. (H and I still make jokes about “the colonies” once in a while — it’s a regular gag in our long-running friendship.)
Most of all, I thought about my great-uncle, who participated in the D-Day invasion in June 1944. When he arrived, the scene at Omaha Beach, the most heavily defended beach at Normandy, was beyond crazy. It was 10:30 at night. Great-Uncle B carried a heavy pack and they dropped him off into water that was 10 feet deep so that he could swim/wade to shore.
I’ve often wondered what that was like for him. My writer’s imagination conjures up a lot of it — the fear he must have felt, the whine of bullets and the deafening explosions, the cries of the dying or injured, and the smells of ordnance and salt air. I imagine he called upon his military training to focus and accomplish whatever mission he’d been assigned.
Great-Uncle B was one of the lucky ones. He survived the war and lived a good, long life. That day on Omaha Beach, he picked up a shell as a souvenir and later marked it with the date and location of where he’d found it. We still have it.
The Fourth of July makes me appreciate how lucky I am. Because of Great-Uncle B and other people like him, I have the freedom to enjoy the Fourth in whatever way I see fit. I can enjoy the sweetness of my neighbor’s little kids who gaze with wide, awed eyes at the fireworks show and hear their merry giggles as they dodge around the adults. I can laugh at the corny jokes of my family whenever we get together, reveling in our closeness and ability to live our lives the way we want.
Happy Independence Day, everybody! I’m feeling retro today, so enjoy this lil’ video of The Andrews Sisters, courtesy of Old Timie Music and YouTube.