Fifth of July

July 5th was always an abysmal day in our household growing up. My father so loved the Fourth of July that he would attempt to out-do himself year after year. The summer I was nine years old I distinctly remember hearing him argue with my mother through the thin walls of the house that we could barely afford (mostly due to the exorbitant firework and flag budget). 

My mother had been trying to reason with him, telling him that things had gotten out of hand. He called her a communist and told her to move back to Russia (my mother was Canadian, by the way). She got so angry that she stormed onto the back patio and took to cutting up his favorite apron—an American flag patterned one that said “Kiss me, I’m a Patriot.” We were soon to find out, however, that he had about six more of these in his gun safe. 

That was the same year that our neighbor, old one-eyed Janice, had come into our backyard screaming at my father about the inappropriateness of the all-night firework display on a Tuesday night. My father muttered a comment about her being a treasonous prude as he lit the fireworks he was holding in his hand. Then he removed his cap and started singing the star-spangled banner while launching the fireworks directly at Janice, who had been known as two-eyed Janice before this particular incident.

I still remember how hard my dad laughed, holding his hand over one eye and mocking her wales of pain. But no matter how good of a time he had on the Fourth, and he usually had quite a good time, the Fifth of July brought with it a freedom hangover that would rival the most dismal opioid withdrawals. 

My dad would shuffle from his bedroom, his brown hair knotted and tangled in a strange nest on his head, his bloodshot eyes wincing at even the dimmest of lights, and wearing nothing but his favorite apron, holding a warm half-finished beer from the night before in his shaky hand. I was young, but even then I remember knowing that the beer smelled cheap.

He sat at the breakfast table, simmering in his barely contained fury and disappointment. If his coffee, newspaper, and hearty breakfast didn’t appear within a few moments, his wrath would be uncontained. 

Of course, it didn’t take long of him looking at the newspaper to find something or other to curse the world over. He seemed incredulous and angry that his celebration of America had not fixed the turmoil, strife, and conflict across the nation. He could never understand why people refused to honor his country like he did every Fourth of July. He would look as though he’d never be happy again.

Maybe he never was. Less than a week later he had a heart attack while berating his doctor. The poor doctor was new to the clinic and didn’t read the note in my dad’s chart that said “Offering medical opinions will send him into a blind rage.” 

His last will and testament stated that he was to be buried on the Fourth of July. That his tombstone should be in the shape of a steely-eyed eagle, and the firework display should last from mid-afternoon until the next day. 

My mom refused to do any of those things (for obvious reasons). Within 24 hours he was cremated and his ashes were spread over the gun counter at his favorite Walmart Superstore. All in all, I think he would have been fine with that.

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