S’mores and the smell of gunpowder…

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!

13 Replies to “S’mores and the smell of gunpowder…”

  1. What a gorgeous, vivid post. I feel like I was there with you.

    I wonder if the kids of this generation (my little one, for example) will get to experience that feeling of running loose and freedom and possibility.

  2. Mid-western (or Michigan?) charm, Eileen. And you lived the holiday throughout the summer by practicing self-independence…spit and all. 🙂

    Happy Fourth!

  3. I laughed out loud when you said it never occurred to you as a kid that your parents weren’t devastated by your absence! I love my kids and all, but shipping them off to Grandmas is one of my favorite things to do.

    Was this Grand Haven?

  4. I only hope that as you have matured, you now know what the 4th of July is all about. It isn’t fireworks, picnics or parades, but something more. Something so very much more.

  5. This sounds just idyllic….Eileen, what wonderful memories!

    I spent my youth on Lake Michigan (the other side of the lake)–and as a matter of fact, I was on the beach again today! Kohler Andrae State Park. It still smells of white pine, campfire, seaweed, wild raspberries, and yes, ‘fresh air blowing through beach grass.’ We hiked the dunes, watched the seagulls steal fish from the waves, fawned over the puppies galloping around the beach…*sigh*

  6. YVPF is absolutely correct in that it is so much more. But if my memory serves, wasn’t it YVPF with the big bag of explosives every year?

    Excellent post, Eileen. I too learned to swim the same way you did but they first took me out a half mile in a row boat and threw me overboard and rowed back in with me in tow.

  7. Funny that you wrote about this today when I was just talking to my son about how we grew up at the lake and the freedoms that we had. I think that’s where we learned independence, self confidence, and the meaning of unconditional love as nothing we could do would upset grandma! Thanks for the memories!

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