Friday, July 1, 2016

A Holiday Tradition

My family seems to sync with holidays. My brother was born on St Patrick's Day, my sister's birthday often hits Thanksgiving and I claim Halloween and Election Day. When I was a child my mother used to make little witches for my birthday parties with Tootsie Roll heads and a crepe paper skirt under which was hidden a cup with a stash of candy corn. I never really identified with Halloween, but as an adult I often spent my birthday doorknocking for my Presidential candidate. I must admit those holiday associations do make it easier to recall family birthdays.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that my parents, who missed out on that birthday tradition, claimed their holidays in death. My father whose name was Phil chose the holiday of his namesake Punxsutawney Phil, Groundhog's Day, and my mother very appropriately chose the Fourth of July, appropriately because in life she loved flags and her country.
Last July we were doing the death vigil at this time of year. I never fully comprehended that being on one's death bed is more than a turn of phrase. I had come down to Illinois to visit my mother for what turned into an unexpected wait for her demise. It had an air of unreality to it, but as the Fourth of July approached, I knew that would be her departure date. 

When I used to go for drives with my mother and we passed American flags waving in the wind, she would point them out in delight. She put flags in her planters, on her wall where she hung the things that spoke to her and of course on my father's grave.
On her wall she also had a photo of the Statue of Liberty and often spoke of how happy she was that she was born in America where she could get an education. Her mother had been born in the Ukraine where she was not educated, something that had always saddened my mother. My mother had loved learning and going back to college as an adult had been a highlight of her life. She associated that gift with being an American. The Fourth of July is a happy holiday to associate with her, a celebration of things she held dear.

I used to think of my mom as being a bit Pollyanna. In addition to loving flags, her country, and education, she lit up around children and frequently summoned us to our kitchen window to see a bird or a sunset. She didn't have a jaded bone in her body. My father called her The Original Innocent, perhaps because she had a purity of spirit, a genuine joy in the world around her that us more jaded souls have a harder time summoning. 

I have a picture of her in my mind that is associated not with the flag, but with another Fourth of July tradition, fireworks. I had taken her on a trip to Barcelona. We stayed in a hotel on the Ramblas that overlooked a Miro mosaic, a circle set into the pavement. At night the fire swallowers would come out and position themselves on it, drawing a crowd until we would hear the DA-da DA-da of the police coming to disperse them. Our balcony gave us a front row seat. 

That evening we had already had our floor show of fire swallowers when we heard a noise and my mother returned to the balcony to see what it was. As she stood there in her nightgown, we realized it was the opening volley of a fireworks show from a nearby street. I picture her in her nighty, her face illuminated with the light from the fireworks and an expression of pure delight.

As I watch fireworks this Fourth of July, I think I will hold that image close, her looking at the world with joy, illuminated in its glow.

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