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Miss me? I've been off living the type of life worth writing about. But I've been SO busy living it, there has been little time to reflect on it (which is really where the art comes in). We need time to understand what things mean. To remember all we didn't notice. I mean even Facebook will need at least a whole 'nother fortnight to show you posts about the great NEW ENGLAND SHOWS I'm playing THIS WEEK: Thursday, June 29 through Saturday, July 1. Let's look forward to the 4th and back on Father's Day with this story, revised from 24-year-old Heather's diary.
Today’s 2-Minute Tale
I am sitting in my parents’ sunroom, listening – not watching - the fireworks being set off throughout the neighborhood. The official ones exploding five minutes’ west in town sound like tree branches cracking, splitting and falling through all the other boughs until they hit the forest floor. Closer, smaller bursts sound like the popping of green wood in a campfire. Some sing only their whistling ascent.
A massive wooden playset once resided in the side yard. Even after I gave up sliding down its fireman’s pole or hanging upside down by crooked knees off its rope ladder, teenage me would climb it every Independence Day to get 10 feet closer to the fireworks. But once I was in my twenties, my father dangled a challenge from its beams:
“IF YOU CAN HAUL IT – YOU CAN HAVE IT.”
That was all the advertisement needed with a house on a major road, and it wasn’t long before an entire family came to extract the behemoth. My father wasn’t home, so my brother and I set to work removing the only thing anchoring it to the ground – the fireman’s pole.
I always knew my father was a thorough person. If he builds a deck, or lays a tile floor, or fixes a concrete step, it is careful and steadfast. And, apparently, when my father secures a child’s playset to the ground, it is done to last the ages. My brother and I set about digging out the pole with the relaxed naivety of people who think their task is going to be easy and short. We started with garden spades.
We graduated to a shovel, taking turns digging. Dirt piled and piled until the shovel finally rang with contact. Then we started removing countless rocks from the hole. Periodically, we tried to pull the pole straight up, but it would not budge. The other family’s largest champion also tried to pull Excalibur to no avail.
Feet into the ground, we eventually discovered the perpendicular wooden plank my father secured to the pole’s base, rendering it immobile all these years. When we finally freed it, I felt humbled, and like I knew things about my father I hadn’t before.
Just as there is magic in a child digging up that which their father has buried, there's also a rite in the communal moving of something really big and heavy. We didn’t know this family, but for the duration of the endeavor, we were old friends. We took turns extracting the two-year-old constantly attempting to crawl into the playset while it was being carried like a palanquin. We shared the strain and the cold sodas and the stories of Large-Things-Moved Past. My brother, with all his Boy Scout skill, fashioned knots until this thing was as steady as a giant wooden playset too wide for an 18-wheeler can be. We said our goodbyes to the new owners, who hauled it and had it indeed.
I wonder if that kid is perched on it right now, watching fireworks.
I have (and will) watch from many other memorable places. The July 4th I helmed the University of Maryland student newspaper, I had no photographer and a deadline. I had a single-use camera and CVS-developed film. My only clear firework ran front page. (I still have the original photo.)
(And this diary writer doesn’t know it yet, but two-decades-later Heather will pitstop from a 14-hour drive to play the National Women’s Music Festival just in time to watch a lightning storm steal the fireworks’ thunder over a Great Lake. Oh! And while eating a whole free pizza someone never picked up.)
… A western Maryland battlefield, next to a cemetery. As the sky booms above us, a boy leans in to kiss me – a first kiss, I think - but is interrupted by the searching calls of his friends cresting the hill. He curses.
… I sit in the middle of an empty field and watch the falling ash all alone.
… There is a scar in the side yard of my parents’ house.
Why don't I remember birthdays this vividly? I guess sparkly explosions have a way of branding the experiences closest to them.
My mother found a tattered flag while cleaning today, and I suggested we should burn it on the front lawn … because believe it or not that is the “dignified manner” the US Flag Code recommends for disposal.
But you have to say the magic words. It turns out there is a surprisingly thin line between reverence and sacrilege.
* * *
Sometimes we bury things deep for healthy reasons, like a father's love and a child's joy, but either way, we only realize the true depth when there's been time to reflect. When we dig it back up later. A country is a bit like that, and we shouldn't go teasing with garden spades when a shovel is necessary. There is room for both reverence and reassessment this July 4th. But before that:
There are rain plans for everything. The house concert needs a pre-registration. And all the info you need is right here:
Write me. Add me to your mailing list. Come to a show. I dig you.
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