"On the stairs, I smoke a cigarette alone/Mexican kids are shooting fireworks below/Hey baby, it's the Fourth of July/Hey baby/Baby take a walk outside." An excerpt from the song "Fourth of July" by X
The Fourth of July brings back my childhood memories of homemade potato salad and thick rib eye steaks on the grill. My dad would always complain about having to do all the work. Mom was useless after having worked the night at Yangtzee's Chinese Restaurant. Plus, she couldn't cook. Mom knew her limitations and didn't even try and despite his grumbling, Dad liked the kitchen and barbecue to himself.
I grew up in a small suburb sixty miles east of Los Angeles called Ontario. Ontario had a Dunkin Donuts, a Pizza Hut, a Carl's Jr., a Pup n Taco and not much else. The favorite pastime of my junior high years was to walk through the sewer drains underneath the airport with my friends. Life must have been really boring if sewage drains were an adventure.
My twin sister Jackie and I attended Imperial Junior High and took all GATE classes. Our little sister Annie was two years behind us. Our best friend Melinda, whose mom Mary often watched us after school, went to Imperial with us. Jackie and I wore a lot of florescent during junior high. That was the same year Wham UK came out with the day glow video and we followed the trend. Melinda bucked the trends and wore her hair spiked up and favored tight stretch pants with a tank and a jean jacket with all of her heavy metal band buttons (Motley Crue was her favorite) lined up down the front.
We were latchkey kids. CHIPS was my favorite TV show along with What's Happening and Good Times. We had a track house on a cul-de-sac with a swimming pool. Mom waited tables and worked at Circle K and Dad moved furniture. Things were pretty comfortable until Dad bought a bar called The Big O and quit his job, a decision that plunged our family into financial ruin. But, until then things were good although Mom always said we were bill poor. Even though she worried about money, Mom always took us shopping. Mom loved to shop and still does. Even if it was her last twenty, Mom would use it to buy us swimsuits or shoes. We shopped at K-Mart, JC Penny's, Montgomery Wards and Gemco.
Back to those summer barbecues, Mom and Dad would always fight. My childhood was filled with the electrical tension of their relationship. Everything would be fine and then boom, Mom would explode usually because Dad was drinking too much. But, until their fights went off, those summer barbecues were beautiful times. My sisters and I would swim until we couldn't move our arms and down Shasta after Shasta cola like there was no tomorrow. Dad would let us each have our own steak and dribble steak sauce on it for us. Dad never used A1 Steak Sauce, it was always Worcestershire Sauce.
The thing is, no matter how much I try, I can't recreate those memories in my head or on the page. My writing is a poor substitute for the reality but I try to capture the magic nonetheless. But, I ultimately fail because there's too much there. I always forget something.
Like my dad's blue swim trunks and his scarred up legs from his vein disorder. Or the way my sisters and I would dive off the diving board or play Marco Polo in the pool. Mom's smile when she relaxed. And the fireworks Dad would save up his moving tips to buy. My sisters and I would watch in awe as the charcoal snakes weaved their way down the street and marveled with open mouths at the twirling fireworks that screamed as they spun.
Melancholy nostalgia are the only words that capture the feeling because no matter what, no matter what is left, Dad is gone.
And so are his fireworks.