The pool, the grill, the ping pong table, the ice cream maker, and the fireworks. Everything was readied early in anticipation of my mother’s favorite holiday; the 4th of July.
The soft knocks on the door, and the whispered, “Is Bonnie home?” would generally start around the first of June. Sometimes you would see her standing in the middle of the street talking to a young man. She would slip him some money and he would nod and take off down the street. She even had a truck driver friend that would drive through Texas and Mexico and make secret stops for her. He would call her and she would drive to his house to pick up her illegal stash. My mother was an illegal fireworks addict!
We would sit in the living room and watch her negotiate her buys and laugh our heads off. My father on the other hand would wring his hands and shake his head in consternation. His law-abiding wife treaded more and more on the wild side the closer it got to the 4th of July.
Everybody in the neighborhood knew she was a junkie for illegals. “Psst, Bonnie. I’ve got a stash for you. Meet me in the backyard.” And away she would go.
My mother always issued an open invitation; “The pool will be warm, the food will be on the grill, the ice cream will be homemade, the door will be open. Walk In!” And everyone did. It was absolutely the most wonderful place in the world to be on the 4th of July.
She loved to play ping-pong. My son and she would play all summer. The competition was fierce. Then my brother-in-law the fireman would enter the mix. He played ping-pong at the fire station. He was as competitive as my mother was. On the 4th they would swing those paddles, hit that little ball, and yell at one another like they were playing in the Olympics. The one that lost any particular game would stomp and storm for a bit, dive into the pool to cool off, and issue the next challenge. The rest of us were too wise to get involved. We played volleyball and Marco Polo in the pool.
My father was a master at the barbeque. The food that came off of his grill would literally melt in your mouth. He would tend to his cooking under the biggest umbrella. If you knew what was in your best interest you would stand and visit with him, but never, never try to interfere. His grill was his kingdom, beside if he could look busy with the food he had a legitimate excuse not to get involved in the ping pong competition.
The food, the laughter, the swimming, the sunshine, the women that would step off of my mother’s secret pool steps and end up with wet hair, the rich homemade ice cream, the constant flow of people that loved my mother and father would make for the most memorable day of the year. I have 4th of July memories that are priceless, but one memory stands all by itself.
Much to my father’s chagrin my mother had amassed a huge cache of illegals. Our beach city allowed fire works, but there were limits. My mother knew no limits and her bedroom closet showed it. Word had gone out that Bonnie was going to put on a great show that evening and people were starting to gather. It wasn’t dark yet, but everyone wanted to be taken to her secret closet to see her stash. She finally decided it would be easier to have some of the boys carry it all out. They had a great time spreading the exciting things all over the living room floor. The living room was crammed with people oohing and aahing over the great fireworks Bonnie had scored.
Everyone was so preoccupied that they didn’t pay any attention to what was going on outside ... when all of a sudden a siren blared so loud that you would have thought the windows would shatter. The people in the living room jumped to their feet. The siren continued to blare! A stern voice on a loud speaker yelled, “Bonnie Whipple would you please come outside. Bonnie Whipple it has been brought to our attention that you have some illegal fireworks in your possession. Bonnie Whipple please come outside, NOW!”
My mother had built such a loyal group of illegal firework procurers that everyone grabbed as much as they could stuff inside a shirt and took off running. She stood in the middle of the chaos and yelled, “Run! Run! I’ll take the heat. Get out of here before they see you.” And run they did. My parents had four entrances to their house. I have never in my life seen so many, with shirts so full, run so fast, in so many different directions while my brave mother prepared herself to be taken hand cuffed off to illegal fireworks prison. She turned to my father and shrugged her shoulders as if to say ’I couldn’t help myself.” and slowly walked out the front door. I stayed in the house with my father; my heart in my throat tears falling off of my cheeks. My son went outside with his partner in crime, his beloved grandmother.
Just as my father and I were gathering the courage to go watch our wonderful criminal being arrested we heard her yell, “You damn son ofa b@!*h. You nearly caused a heart attack. (My mother had never uttered a cuss word in her life.) My dad and I really got frightened when we heard talk like that come out of HER mouth. We took off running. She must have lost her mind with the stress. What we found became the stuff of a family legend.
My brother-in-law and his fire station buddies had been out on a call. On the way back to the station my brother-in-law had gotten his buddies to stop at my mother’s house and switch on the siren. If everyone hadn’t been ogling the illegals on the living room floor they would have heard the engine pull up outside, but they hadn’t and the joke went off better then my brother-in-law could have ever hoped for. There wasn’t a fireman in that engine that wasn’t bent over with hysterical laughter. They had watched as the fireworks had disappeared all over the neighborhood.
My mother threw herself on the grass in the front yard and laughed herself sick. My brother-in-law had won this one, BIG TIME!
It took my mother the better part of an hour to get the word throughout the neighborhood that it had been a joke and the illegals could be returned. I’m not certain to this day that she got back everything that she had originally bought. But this I am certain of ... when it got dark and my father had brought out the buckets of sand, and the garden hoses, and the illegals were finally lit and exploded in the sky, we had one of the most glorious 4th of July celebrations that we had ever had. Even my worried father smiled.
That‘s what I will be remembering as we sit in the backyard and watch our ‘legal’ city fireworks explode in the sky over our heads. My son and I will share laughter and tears when one of us will be compelled to say “Mom would have loved that one!”
HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!!!!