11 September 2001, Revisited

Since the attacks, outside of its anniversary date, I hadn’t dwelled on it much. I didn’t arrive in New York City until 2014; this place was unfamiliar to me until then.

In a tradition I started, when a niece turns 16, we go on a trip together. When my niece Aimee said she wanted to go to NYC, I was completely on board. My historic and nerdy soul wanted to drag this poor jock to all the museums, but I let her choose what she wanted to do.

She wanted to hit all the main touristy places, which was fine. And then she added, “I want to go to the 9/11 Museum.”

The what? I did a double take.

She was in the womb when the towers fell. Why on earth would she want to see that when she had no experience with that dark, dark day? Then I realized that she had never lived in a pre-9/11 world. She didn’t know anything prior to that, like I had never known a world without microwave ovens. Her entire life was lived in this shadow of the falling towers.

She was insistent about it, and so we went.

It was the last stop on our trip, after a French breakfast in the financial district, we got in the long line. I had no idea what to expect.

It was like a tomb, because it was. Everyone talked in hushed voices, if they talked at all. Every so often you’d pass someone sobbing quietly. We walked down the staircase that so many survivors did. It looked like it was hit by a bomb. We paused at the blue memorial wall – behind it was the final resting place of the many victims and first responders. That was difficult to take in.

We sat in a room that projected pictures of people who died in the tragedy, with a bit of their life story. We sat there awhile, my niece completely spellbound – drawn in by these ordinary folks, caught up in history. It was personal.

We walked through the main exhibit, where it walks you through the day, phone calls played, news broadcasts, shows, what happened at all the specific times – it was that horrible day all over again. There was a walled off section where you could watch the more sensitive footage from that day. I’m an empath, already overwhelmed by the exhibit and my memories of the day, so I didn’t go. My niece went in and I didn’t stop her. She walked out of the alcove and gulped. “That was…. yeah…” her voice trailed off. She didn’t have to finish her sentence. I knew.

We left heavier than when we arrived. “That was really intense,” I said. “Yeah, it was,” she replied. I shared my story with her, what I was doing, where I was, how I felt. The whole train ride home carried the heaviness of our experience.

“I’m glad that’s the last thing we did,” I said. “I need time to process all that.”

“Me too,” she said.

Here I am, 18 years later, still processing it.

11 September 2001

Tuesdays were my favorite.

As a member of the Army ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps) in college, Tuesdays were the only day I didn’t have to line up in formation at 0600 on the other side of campus for PT (Physical Training) – or Physical Torture, as I called it. It was basically an hour long gym class from hell.

I slept in.

I awoke around 0930, central time, in my dorm and turned the local rock station on the radio. Sometimes their morning show DJ got a little raunchy. This morning, the main guy was going off about something, I was only half listening. And then I caught, “….yeah, and then planes flying into the World Trade Center, man. I mean, wow, the devastation and <insert odd giggling here> ….this is….I’m so….people are dying, man.”

I strode across the room and turned it off. That was a new low for this radio station. Joking about planes flying into the World Trade Center in New York? Wow. That was beyond diabolical and had no business being on the air. I was disgusted. How could you even joke about something like that?

My roommate had already gone to class, as I stood there. I was in the middle of Illinois. It seemed really odd to me that they would be joking about something so specific, so far away. I wondered for a moment if there was any shred of truth to this. I turned on CNN to check.

And the breath got caught in my throat. The second tower had just fallen.

Like the rest of America, I sat glued to my television screen. That odd giggling of the DJ was not disrespect: that was the utter disbelief of what was happening in real time and the rule of no silence during a radio broadcast. My boyfriend lived down the hall (I was on a co-ed floor) and I ran to his room, trying to make sense of it. We then heard the Pentagon was hit – his mom worked near there. We tried to call her but the lines were busy all day. We were on eggshells, waiting for her to call. We learned later she was safely evacuated.

I called my dad at work. After everything I said, he answered with, “I don’t know, Simonne. I don’t know.” This was new territory for all of us.

I walked to my human biology class in a daze. The large lecture hall only had a smattering of students, all of us dazed. Our prof walked in with tear streaked mascara and shouted at us, “What are you doing here? Go back home, just go back! Class is cancelled.” She grabbed her stuff and sobbed as she walked out.

I walked like a zombie back to my dorm, not sure of what was suppose to happen next. I had never been to New York. I never knew anyone from New York. Yet in this moment, I felt like New York was home. It was a very strange juxtaposition that only made sense in the wake of the tragedy.

PT resumed the next day and I couldn’t wait to hear what my Lieutenant Colonel, the highest ranking officer on campus, had to say about all this. Right before our run, he huddled us up and spoke about the terrorist attack. “We got this, they’re not going to win, we will respond. Don’t worry. We got this.”

Hoowah! America would come out swinging and win, just as we always had.

Our college put together a rally on the Quad with a speaker from the Army. Classes were cancelled so everyone could attend on that sunny September Thursday at high noon. My boyfriend chose to stay in the dorm and play video games, but I was there. Everyone showed up, every group was represented. It was like a funeral, everyone was somber and quiet, yet it helped console the student body.

The Saturday following was our first home football game. I was part of the ROTC Colorguard during the national anthem. When we were out on the field, I can’t even begin to describe the silence. The stands were filled to the brim and yet when I closed my eyes, it felt like I was standing alone in the stadium. No movement, no sound, no babies crying, nothing. It was the strangest, most ethereal silence I have ever experienced. Nothing else has come close to it.

We had a Field Training Exercise where we were suppose to take Blackhawk helicopters to the location – needless to say, we took school busses instead. Five months later I got on a plane to fly out to Washington DC for a week. Friends freaked out, “How can you fly after what just happened? Aren’t you scared?” No. I also walked alone at night and refused to live in fear.

Today, 18 years later, this post-9/11 world is still unfolding.

Windswept, Part II

While Matthew was a gentle and confident lover, Florence was into bondage and had a water fetish.

Should we stay or should we go? My husband I debated it like an impending divorce. My pastor who was staying in Wilmington said, “I don’t think it’s going to be as bad as they say.” We decided to stay.

The day before she arrived, I brought supplies to a friend who had opened his home to the extreme poverty stricken, as many could not get into hurricane shelters without valid ID. Driving home, Wilmington reminded me of my college town in the summer: you could feel in the air that 20,000 people had left.

We took in a couple who had no where else to go. The four of us rode out the storm together.

My experience with Florence was a lot of talk and not a lot of action. Oh, you’re making the trees bend in half and defoliated everything? Fine, whatever.

At the Dovecote, we had loads of wind and a large tree branch come down. I kept walking down the street to see if ocean front property was in my future. Thankfully, we stayed high and dry. We lost power for three days – the longest I have ever gone without electricity. There was a creepy silence in the house without any appliances humming, but lighting the house by candlelight was good for my soul. The humidity shot up to 80% inside and there wasn’t a darn thing we could do about it. I like it hot, but even I was getting uncomfortable.

For me, the craziest part came after the storm. 50+ cars in line for gas was something I had never seen before. Wilmington became an island: all the roads into town had flooded out, so trucks bringing food, gas, and other supplies were cut off until further notice.

I stopped at Food Lion to grab some things just in case the roads stayed flooded. There was a line at the door, a man with a headset stood guard. “What’s the line for?” I inquired. “To get in,” a lady said. They were only allowing five people in the store at a time. The old lady behind me was there for cigarettes, sitting on a bin because her labored breathing made it hard to stand. “Gotta git muh cigs,” she kept muttering under her breath. Most everyone was there for cigarettes. Several cars rolled by shouting, “Y’all got ice?” “No!”

Like standing in line for the club, the doorman finally let me in. Only shelf stable food remained: no frozen, no meat, no produce, no dairy. I turned into a 12 year old and grabbed random food items that made no sense, completely thrown from my usual staples. “Any idea when the trucks can make it back into town?” I asked the lady at the register. “Nope.”

We were incredibly lucky. We knew people who lost everything and their insurance just shrugged at their loss. The displacement of people, how everything bloomed again like it was spring, followed by a muted spring, kept reminding me of this terrible storm. I know people who are still without a home, a year later, still trying to rebuild what Florence destroyed.

When it was all said and done, I lost 50 hours of work. I ate all of it. That caused some serious indigestion, but my home and my family were safe, and for that, I was thankful. In the weeks to come, we helped with the clean up effort.

And I must say, I am bit more than worried about what’s coming our way in the next few days.

Windswept, Part I

I knew it would happen at some point, as these things usually do. I always figured it would have happened earlier, but being a late bloomer, this wasn’t much of a surprise.

I’d heard the stories from friends and co-workers, who’d tell of the crazy times that followed their first time. “Always be prepared,” they said. “Have everything ready because when the time comes, you don’t want to run out to the store in the heat of the moment.”

It wasn’t completely innocent. I messed around with Ernesto (I wasn’t ready for any of that) right after I moved here. Irene once kept me up most of the night, but she was gone by lunchtime. Then there was Arthur – he caused lots of drama at work for no reason – and he also met my mom.

My virginity was still in tact. Whenever someone asked me if I was “experienced,” the answer was always no. I was technically still a virgin.

And then Matthew showed up on my doorstep.

I knew I was going all the way with Matthew, there was no turning back. A mixture of excitement and fear combined like cement in my stomach. I could entertain him if he decided to stay a few days, but he was one of those who was gone by daybreak.

He came over after dark. I knew what to expect, I just wasn’t sure how it would feel, how I would react, and worried about what I would do if something went wrong or if my protection failed. And yet, when the big moment arrived, I was entranced. With the lights off, I watched him in the pale glow of the street lamps. It was all happening.

It was quite different from my other experiences. It appeared slow at first. Ha, I thought, this is nothing. And then things picked up and I was amazed at how different it was: the weird way it felt against my naked skin when I stepped into his embrace, the sights and sounds were foreign, and I wondered what would become of all this in the light of day.

Matthew was quite gentle and kind, in all honesty, and I’m glad my first time was like this; I know it’s not always the case. I’ll be forever grateful for his easy touch.

His Category 1 status took out the wax myrtle trees in the front yard, but wax myrtles are notorious for falling over if you sneeze too hard near them. There was no flooding, just a bunch of leaves everywhere, a few brown outs; it was basically a very windy storm without thunder and lightning.

Matthew, my sweet Matthew, did not prepare me for my next admirer: Florence.

Save a Prayer

“It’s not there anymore,” Phoebe had said. I was strolling through town and had planned to stop at the college bar we frequented back in the day. It was dark by the time I walked through the door. Phoebe was only half right: the bar was still there, but most of the building was a restaurant.

Then I realized she was right all along: it wasn’t there anymore.

The bar I remembered was a dimly lit unrefined establishment that drew in the early 20’s crowd. There was a large and scary looking dude manning the door, who put your ID under a video camera to document the time you arrived. His glare insured you wouldn’t start any problems. There were pool tables, a dance floor, a DJ booth, tables, and a large bar that was perpetually sticky with spilled drinks.

This bar, with the same name and location, now was lit with what can only be described as flood lights. Only two pool tables remained, but they were obviously new. The hightop tables were not only clean, but shiny brushed nickel. The bar had liquor bottles lit up on shelves and a several TV’s broadcasted ESPN. A small area was dedicated to gambling machines, a big deal in Illinois now, apparently. The bar was a fraction of the size I remembered, the dance floor gave way to the restaurant. The girl behind the bar looked like she was still in middle school with no bouncer. I was the only patron.

I ordered a peach vodka and Sprite, checked my phone, and looked around. This was not the place I left. Then again, I’m not who I was the last time I was here either.

I was here my last night as an Illinois resident. What a night that was.


Alex and Phoebe were here with me, as well as Three – the four of us played pool. Three was a co-worker. His real name was a mouthful of prestige, and he was the third generation to carry this long bulky name, so it was shorted to simply Three, which fit him better. We flirted constantly. He asked me out right after I accepted the job offer in North Carolina. Three was a good man, but he had his gaping flaws. In addition to falling asleep during the sermon when I brought him to my church, Three was banned from several bars for starting fights while drunk. Despite this, he had a good heart, kindness, and a love for hard rock. I knew he wasn’t long term boyfriend material – he was older – but to me he was a pint of beer on a hot day: probably not the best thing to be drinking, but it hit the spot.

I was two Long Island Iced Teas into my night when we left the bar. He was buzzed too, so we walked back to my empty apartment. He had been over a few times already. We worked the same weird shift and it wasn’t uncommon for him to crash at my place – we spooned.

I awoke the next morning before sunrise. The reality of everything hit me. I was leaving Illinois for good after breakfast. I really liked Three and I wondered what would have happened if our timing had been better or if I had stayed. I watched the sunrise with all of this flowing through my mind, while he slept. Once the sun was up, we hugged and kissed good-bye and that was the last I ever saw of him.


I ordered another peach vodka and Sprite as the past seeped into my consciousness. A conversation in the days to come revealed Three was married with children, still working the same gig.

I left the bar, surprisingly sober, and mulled it all over in the couple of miles walking back to Phoebe’s house. It felt like two lifetimes had passed since this ground was under my feet in different shoes.

Two lifetimes had passed.

And it was.

Breakfast & the Battlefield

“C’mon were going out to breakfast,” Phoebe said. It was the last day I was staying with her family in the middle of nowhere central Illinois.

“But the kids, Alex?”

Phoebe shook her head and waved her hand. “They’ll be fine.”

We drove into town and ended up at an old haunt, a mom and pop diner. I had totally forgot this place exsisted. Phoebe was still reconstructing her life, as her and Alex’s legal separation ended. The bump Phoebe sported was proof their seperation wasn’t as seperate as the legal papers say they were. It was unplanned, but Phoebe and her prophetic gift knew this was in the cards years ago. 

“I hope I’m making the right decision by letting him come back. He’s changed, he’s good to me, the kids, he’s making amends, but I worry he’ll cheat again,” her voice trailed off as she gazed longingly at my mimosa.

I made the wrong decision by ordering huervos rancheros in a small farming town restaurant run by white people: it was an uncooked flour tortilla with scrambled eggs topped with tomato sauce. I was jealous of Phoebe’s breakfast of eggs, toast, and hashbrowns and her ability of getting pregnant with birth control.

“You have to go by the fruit they produce, but nothing is ever guaranteed,” I said. She knew I was fully supportive of her decision, to stay or go. If I were her, I’d have left and not looked back, but it was not for me to decide.

“How did we get here, Simonne? Why is marriage so damn hard?”

The weight of her words hit me like a sack of flour dropped out of the sky. I thought about my own heart wrenching struggles in my marriage and how it changed me and ultimately us. I thought about my friend who divorced a parasitic narcissist with an abusive streak a mile wide dressed up as a good Christian man. I thought of my other friend who appears to have the perfect marriage from my distant view, wondering if they found the secret that has elduded us, or if they’re as effed as we are and hide it better with their megakilowatt smiles.

“No one said it would be this hard,” I said barely above a whisper. “Problems, sure, thats life. But this – all this – why had no one warned us?”

“I don’t know, someone should have said something. I just never knew it would be this hard.”

I scoffed at those empty platitudes we shove on brides to be: never go to bed angry, laugh together everyday, put Jesus in the center and everything will be fine. Sometimes going to bed angry is better than having the same arugument an octive higher and an hour later. There are times when laughing is on the list below cleaning the grout in the kitchen after a long and tiring day: not happening. Jesus said He would be with us, not that bad times would be avoided by obedience and prayer. I doubt the second time Paul was shipwrecked, did he think, “Wow I must really be doing something wrong.” America with her prosperity gospel of smooth sailing and happy clappy Christians: gag me with a place setting.

Yet here we were.

We ate in silence. We both were fighters, women who followed after Jesus, and loved our husbands. We ate like we were gearing up for battle.

As we left the restaurant and headed back to the house, I reflected how on how Alex’s adultery changed Phoebe: she became less dependent on Alex and more dependent on God. Old Phoebe would have fretted over the kids and Alex for breakfast, but now she left him to be a father. Maybe something good came out of this mess.

I recently learned they’re moving to the east coast and will be within driving distance from me. They’ve decided to hit the reset button on their marriage by moving away from the cataclysmic damage. I’m excited to see where the Lord leads them in this new season.

And my heart is so full that I have a another Christian soldier so close to my heart and my city once again.

Splenic Ambitions

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

I’ve always been the oddball in the various churches I’ve belonged to over the years, I don’t quite fit in, yet I have my uses. That has always been my story, even outside of church. You can look at my church and name the big players: you know who is the liver, brain, lungs, eyes, heart, hands, and feet. They’re all good and function well in their roles as we carry out the mission of Christ. I’m not a major organ. My existence on the margins wouldn’t make me a good eye, an effective liver, or a well tuned brain. I would not excel in those capacities. It’s not to demean; I know myself well enough that my strengths are not there.

In the body of Christ, I am the spleen.

You know, that small organ squished over by the stomach. The spleen takes out blood cells that have passed their shelf life and recycles their parts for other things. It’s basically a giant filter that sometimes goes rouge and starts collecting all the platelets, and when that happens, the spleen is removed. No worries though, the liver will pick up the spleen’s job without being asked. It also helps out the immune system, being part of the lymphatic system. It’s a nice thing to have, but its not essential for life. And that’s exactly what I am. 

It has perks, I have my own blood supply, hence why I can cause problems if there is trauma. I’m basically left alone unless theres an issue, no one pays me much mind. I send out help when it is needed (like fighting infections). I do my job quietly, and make sure the recycled cell components get used by other organs.

In a fetus, the spleen makes all the blood cells until the bone marrow is capable. At the beginning of projects, I find myself making sure it has a good running start. I’ve launched anthologies, hosted an intern, instituted a year long bible study, and take the initiative on things. Major decisions made in the church are never run by me, I don’t even know half of the inside information. I hear about conferences and retreats after they happen. Church life for me has always been like this.

Some people look at me weird. “A spleen?” they say. “But you’d make a great ear! Then you’d be visable and noticed!” Nope. I’m a spleen. I’d prefer to stay deep in the body cavity, thanks. “Well, then, maybe a gallbladder or bone marrow! Bone marrow makes blood cells, just like you did!” I’ve tried that, too. I was an ignored member of a team at a megachurch where no one spoke to me or bothered to get to know me. I smiled, I did my best at small talk, but they made it very clear I was not part of their body system. Looking back, it makes sense. I am a spleen.

Not many people get me.

I shine in the background, as the one behind the curtain.

I’m unique enough that you only need one of me.

I’m proud to serve in the capacity I was made to do.

I am honored to be the spleen in the body of Christ. And happy to serve a church that was in dire need of one.

The Prequel to Heaven

“Grandma Beth died,” my husband informed me. She was the widowed mother of a relative – I had never met her – but one of her cookie recipes was a staple in my kitchen.

“Oh no, what happened?”

“It was all very unexpected. The crazy part is when her daughter found her, they say she had been dead on the kitchen floor for almost four days.”

I blinked. Holy cow. That’s how I’m supposed to go. Statisticlly, someday I’ll be a childless widow who will be found when the neighbors complain about the smell of my decomposing corpse. But this woman? I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. She lived in the same town her entire life, birthed five kids (one of which still lived in town), had a score of grandchildren, friendships, and connections – and yet she died alone and no one knew for days. Not to say having someone there could have prevented her death – but I wish her story didn’t end like that. I thought those things only happened to us introverts without kids type.

Sometimes death comes without warning and you don’t have time to assemble your nearest and dearest around you as you cross over to the other side. 

Since getting our living will and last testament notarized earlier this year, I’m much more aware of death – perhaps more so than when I worked in the ER. It’s personal now and not just something that happens to other people or something to worry about someday. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen 65 years from now. I’m prepared either way.

My friend Ruth and I joked that we’d move in together when we were old ladies, á la Golden Girls. With my older husband and her single status, who would care for us and watch out for us in our twilight years? Neither of us have children.

It’s no longer a joke. It’s a jump plan. 

When the days come where living alone is too difficult to navigate, we’re becoming the Golden Girls and taking care of each other by living under the same roof. Even if Ruth marries and has kids and my husband lives to see 100, there will be room in my home and life to care for friends. All the Golden Girls had kids, yet they still needed each other in the day to day. The ability to live in community is so important and I don’t think that changes as we age. If anything, it exacerbates the need for connection. The ability to check in and and care for friends is paramount. Who knows what kind of world we’ll be living in when our hair is silver; I’ve already decided how I am going to live, come what may.

A lot of it will probably consist of sitting on the back porch sipping tea, musing over a Bible verse that has been read 1,000 times over the course of our lives, but today it has a new meaning. We’ll celebrate holidays and birthdays – we’ll be that house that is always open to anyone who needs a family.

I’ve already started living into these rhythms. We’ve hosted all sorts of people throughout the years – from a wayward Kiwi making her way back home to a sweet German tourist to a gay pastor to hurricane refugees without shelter – not to mention last year, my house seemed to be the spot for friends to process a divorce; I was happy to share my space for healing.

My guest room is always ready. You never know who the Lord will send your way in a moment’s notice.

Someday, my doors will propped open for friends who are recast as family when our lives wane into the sunset years. Instead of coming over for the afternoon, they may become permanent fixtures as we figure out this growing older thing together.

God willing, no one in my circle will die alone.

I won’t have kids, grandkids, or great-grandkids. I’ll have to rely on my friends to support me as well. We’re all in this together: might as well set out another chair and deal you in when you’re ready.

Frankensteining

“Don’t step there!”

I stopped in my tracks at my pastor’s sharp words.

“There’s a hole in the floor, step around the board or you’ll fall through.”

Duly noted, I stepped carefully around the board.

This is not typical church talk, but I don’t go to a typical church. We recently acquired a decrepit abandoned building. I’m sure building inspectors have nightmares about buildings like this. Even I had a difficult time wrapping my head around what I saw.

The roof stopped being a roof quite some time ago and the water damage was catastrophic; mold and decay were everywhere. Animals had taken up residence and my body reminded me after working in the building that I should probably wear a mask: the intense migraine and the black stuff coming out of my nose wasn’t good.

The building sat vacant for several years, according to the utility company. It was as if these people just up and left; everything was still left in its place. Haunting, really. Nothing was packed up, nothing was put away. If you sat in the main office and ignored the inches of dust on everything and the mid-90’s computer monitor, you’d think whoever was there would be back in just a moment.

It was something straight out of a horror movie set, a church member commented. I agreed.

Like an old woman falling into dementia, this building’s demise had started well before complete abandonment. I threw out unopened junk mail post marked from 1987, school supplies, church items, children’s toys, random junk, obsolete books, rejects from a defunct rummage sale – it was all here – covered in dirt, mold, and bits of ceiling that caved in from the moisture. And that’s only the stuff I’ve found. My favorite find was the pristine box of audio reels from the 1970’s, yet I have no way of playing them.

In the end, the dementia won, ravaging this once beautiful building; it now belonged to the rats and the fungi. Her decline probably happened slowly, her condition chronic for years, before she drew her last breath when the lock turned for the last time. What was once a wellspring of life 100 years ago, had become an encased tomb filled with things no one would ever need in Heaven…or on earth for that matter.

There’s no electricity, so the hot Carolina summer is really felt in there. There’s no running water either. I’m pretty sure I missed my calling as a dramaturg, so I’m making up for that by going through all the things. I am in search of history of the building and any information I can find about its former inhabitants. I’ve found a few pieces, but I’m sure there’s more under the mire. I went into full genealogy mode and found its historical references online, but I want more than names. I want stories, and if I can find them, personal accounts.

Modern science can’t bring back the dead, let alone someone who’s mind and body were destroyed years earlier. Our church is firmly planted in the resurrection business and we’re going to revive this corpse into a beautiful healthy older lady again. It’ll take a lot of time, effort, and money – but we know this Guy – and He comes through in ways you didn’t think were possible.

I can’t wait to get back into that building to uncover her secrets.

4th of July of Yore

When I was a kid, in my world, the 4th of July was bigger than Christmas – I eagerly looked forward to it every year. 

The day would start early: our small town put on quite the 4th of July parade. I was up and ready to go by 7am, which was super early in those days. You could feel the excitement in the cool air of that summer morning. My dad, sister, and friend of the family who was like an uncle to me would park near the parade route and then walk to a perfect spot with our folding chairs. My mom usually stayed back to prep for the party.

The parade had a city marching band, color guard, police cars, fire engines, ambulances, horses, antique cars and tractors, as well as some oversized farm equipment. Cheerleaders, community groups, lavish floats – it was all here – and they often threw candy. My sister and I were always ready with brown lunch bags to collect as much as we could. 

After the parade, there were games and food booths in the community square. The foot races were my favorite and I usually won. The marching band would play more patriotic songs and water balloon fights would ensue once the sun got to be too much to bear. By 11, it was time to head home for lunch. The party was about to begin.

Lunch was an array of sandwich options to make your own sandwich. Every type of meat, cheese, condiment, several bread options, chips, and pasta salad – my mom sure knew how to entertain. My dad developed the best cooler the world for these parties: fill your washing machine with bags of ice and put pop and beer in it! Then when it all melts, drain and spin! 

People started to arrive and lunch was in full swing: my dad’s coworkers came, neighbors, and family friends – it was a full house. There were always enough kids for entertainment and every year was different. Sometimes we’d spend the afternoon at the neighborhood pool, playing in the basement, putting together a concert of patriotic songs, or playing croquet. Dinner was around 5, and you had your choice of a burger, hot dog, or brot – my dad was the grill master and my mom managed everything else. Guests would bring desserts and sides and they never disappointed. 

The fireworks didnt start until dark and it felt like it took forever to arrive. We’d drive to the local shopping center – this was the best place to watch – sometimes we’d sit under the bank drive up in folding lawn chairs. In later years, my friends and I would grab old bedsheets and watch the fireworks from the lawn of the funeral home. One year, the pyrotechnics got out of hand and lit the roof of a grocery store on fire. It was quickly put out with minimal damage, but it was the talk of the town for ages. In fact, you could still reference it today and someone would tell their perspective of the event.

After the fireworks, the party was over, all the people were gone. The kitchen was trashed. Everyone was exhausted. I loved every moment of it.

I miss celebrating the 4th in such a grand way. My parents don’t do the parties anymore. It’s too much work, my mom says, and she gets stuck with the prep, serving, and clean up, as my dad is too in the moment to really help. They’re in their 70’s now and they are slowing down. I used to go to Southport for their big celebration, but it feels weird now in this age of MAGA. Watching the fireworks downtown is fun, but it takes two hours to get home afterwards because of traffic. No thanks. Last year my husband and I went to Carolina Beach to watch the tourists set off fireworks illegally on the beach until the cops shut them down. 

It’s not the same as when I was a kid. 

And it will probably never be again. Yet I’ll always cherish the memories of those Independence Days of yore in my heart.