July 3, 2012

The Third of July

If there are any currant bushes on Middle Bass Island, the berries ripened today.  At least, they always ripened on July 3 when I was growing up.  I can remember the date, because it's my late sister's birthday; and it was also the day of the township's firework display, which took place on Put-in-Bay (another  island, just south of us).

July 3 was like Christmas Eve in that it took forever for night to arrive. We didn't just have to wait until dark; we had to work until really dark, and then we had to wait for the lights on Perry's Monument to be turned off. Then we'd pile into whatever jalopy was operational that year and Daddy would drive to the Main Dock, and we'd Ooh and Ahhh, the way everybody does, everywhere.

Since then, I've seen fireworks on New Year's Eve in Times Square (2001); on the Fourth of July from the roof of an eight-story building looking over the Hudson River in New York City (2003); and over the Ohio River following Thunder over Louisville, the annual precursor to the Kentucky Derby (2004).

Each of those fireworks displays was the largest ever in the history of the country, according to the news reports, but none of them compared to the fireworks on the island.  I've alwaysattributed it to the island's isolation, but today I've been reading interviews conducted in the 1980s with writers who are women, and a substantial piece of the conversations had to do with the role of place, in the sense of who grew up where, and Place, in the sense of an ongoing and tiresome conversation about how anybody who wanted to be successful as a writer had to live in New York City.  (Surprise!  The people doing the interviews lived in . . . wait for it . . . New York City.)

But I digress.  My point is that I was reading about the role place carries in our lives, and then I put the book down and started working on a new quilt.  The rhythms -- ripping, pressing, testing, sewing fabric - made room for meandering thoughts.  So I was thinking about the fireworks going off beside Perry's Monument (it's official name is Perry's International Peace and Victory Monument and it was built to commemorate the Battle of Lake Erie and to honor and attest to the peaceful border that has existed between the United States and Canada ever since the Treaty of Ghent was signed).  (Way to go, United States and Canada.)  I was also thinking about currants, cake and ice cream, birthday presents for Amy, and how the fireworks exploded doubly, in the sky and in reflection on the lake, and what a big deal they were.

Then it struck me that just as significant as the fireworks was the fact that we were down at the dock after dark.

We only ever were at the dock after dark on July 3.  Hell, we were hardly ever there in the light, unless we were catching the boat with Mother to go shopping in Port Clinton or to visit her relatives and friends in Detroit.  What was that, all together?  Four or five times a year?

Otherwise, we weren't allowed near the dock.  In the summer, Lonz Winery was generally crowded with raucous folks (many of them from Cleveland*) drunk on sparkling wine (the kind that would be called Champagne if the grapes and the product were both from the Champagne area of France).  Not only were they drunk on fake Champagne, but they were drunk on WARM fake Champagne, which meant they were either hollering or singing or throwing up.  Not a place for children.

Not a place for children in the off-season, either.  What were we going to do there other than pick cherries from the Bing cherry tree that stood near the cliff in front of the Lonz mansion (which we did, with Mother's company) or fall in the lake (which we didn't, because we were never near the water, which is to say the dock)? My folks were all about being somewhere where you could do something productive.  We never went anywhere to look; we went places to learn.  Which isn't a bad form of parenting, whether on a Lake Erie island or in New York City.

*P. S.  It has been said that my children and I are loud. I claim it's a habit developed from a childhood living with a parent who was deaf as a result of flying noisy airplanes in the war without ear protection.  You had to SPEAK UP and you had to e-nun-ci-ate; and it seems I passed that lesson on to my children.  A few months back, I was telling my compadre some island stories and mentioned how loud people from Cleveland seemed when I was growing up.  "Are we that loud?" I asked.  "Oh, no," was the answer.  "Nobody's as loud as people from Cleveland."

I mean no disrespect, you understand.  If people from Cleveland are, indeed, louder than the rest of the world, it's no doubt attributable to all of the reasons I've just named for our family's speech pattern, with the added element of living in a city, where you have to talk over cars and trains and buses and utter bitter cold and, oh, yeah, all of those people.

Happy Third of July.

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