I spent many summers as a kid at my grandmother’s home on Lake Michigan. I used to feel bad for my poor parents who I assumed must be missing me on a near hourly basis. It never occurred to me at the time that perhaps they considered having me gone part of their vacation. My grandmother would house, feed, and corral me and all of my cousins (I think we’re over a dozen in total, but it’s possible I’m forgetting someone) during the summer. She had a perfect place for it, a long winding driveway flanked with fruit trees (which she would send us out to pick like the free labor we were) and a rickety stair case down to the beach. We slept in sleeping bags on every available flat surface.
My grandmother would wake us up at dawn and we had the choice of going with her to church or going outside. She was a big fan of fresh air and the Almighty; she was not fond of TV or laying around. So rain or shine we would head outside and run wild like animals.
It’s possible that kids were more hearty at this time or maybe we just didn’t know the risks. This was a time before we worried about pedophiles, too much sun exposure, food parasites, having Neosporin on every cut, or drowning. I learned to swim when my older male cousins would drag me out into the water toss me in and then yell out helpful suggestions as I sank like a stone. “Use your arms!” If you cut your foot on a piece of glass hidden in the sand one of the other cousins would spit on it to clean the wound and determine that you were fine.
We would gather up firewood and other random trash and build huge fire pits and when it grew dark we would roast hot dogs. For reasons I never understood the buns always ended up falling into the sand so when you bit into a dog it always had a gritty undertone. Then as the night wore on someone would break open the bag of marshmallows and the debate would rage as to the preferred cooking method (slow even toasting to a uniform tan shade versus the flaming black napalm approach.)
Fourth of July meant someone would have fireworks. Nothing says freedom like the ability to blow stuff up. The parents often came to visit on the 4th and everyone was busy either showing off their latest skill acquisition (look I can do a handstand!) or desperately hoping that Grandma wouldn’t mention whatever moronic thing we had been caught doing the week before. You would sit on the beach, the sand growing cool in the night air and peel sheets of burned skin off your arm while the fireworks went off. You would write dirty words in the air with a sparkler and let others try and guess what they were.
I don’t think we gave a lot of consideration to what the holiday meant. It was less about being patriotic and more about who could set off the biggest firework- but when I think back on those summer it is the feeling of freedom that sticks out. Everything smelled like fresh air blowing through beach grass and we were free to imagine that anything would be possible.
Happy 4th of July!