Thomas C. Wolfe wrote, "You can't go home again." I think of this quote often when I latch onto certain memories of my childhood. A watermelon-flavored Jolly Rancher has never tasted as sweet as it did when I was 8 years old, sitting on the dock with my feet dangling in the lake. The singing of cicadas is not as constant and as comforting as it was during those hot summer days in Kansas when I was just a kid, running through fields of dry grass with my friends. And the fourth of July has not been the same since I moved to Minnesota, leaving behind those languid days sitting in the shade, unraveling Black Cats into a metal Folgers can.
When we decided to visit my family this Fourth of July for the first time since we became parents, I told the kids that all fireworks are legal in Kansas and promised them their own stash -- $20 for each of them to spend as they wanted. I promised them firecrackers and things that whistle and spark and as I spoke, I could remember all of it from my own childhood. I could almost smell the smoke and the gunpowder and feel the heat and sizzle of a lit fuse.
On the morning of the Fourth, my partner and I drove to the fireworks stand and the kids wandered the aisles, staring in wonder. They wanted the things with the highest trajectory, the biggest explosions and the brightest of colors while I wanted them to get firecrackers and smoke bombs. I kept saying, “I wanted you to get personal fireworks,” but they held giant packages that promised magic and my nostalgia could not compete.
You can’t go home again, so I let go and they each chose a big, colorful exploding thing from the first stand and then we went to another. The second stand held all the fireworks I remembered and, as we walked through the tent, I pointed and told stories and soon they began to fill their baskets with a mix of those from my past and those that will become theirs, reminding me that our family history will always be a mix of mine, my partner’s and their own.
At one point, I noticed my partner standing beside me with a basket and she handed it to me with a smile and said, “You get $20 too.” It hadn’t occurred to me to buy anything for myself but I quickly filled my basket with Black Cats and parachutes and Buzz Bombs and Jumping Jacks, just as I’d done so many times growing up.
When we got back to my sister’s house, we gave the kids some safety tips and then started setting them off. My daughter burned my son with a punk and we accidentally set some grass on fire. There were short fuses and things that jumped and flew in unexpected ways, forcing us to run and duck for cover. We walked in smoke and our ears rang and our hands were dirty from ash. It was almost exactly like the past. Almost but not quite. Perhaps it’s our desire to revisit the best moments of our past that compels us to try to recreate those experiences for our children. In a way, doing so allows us to return while accepting that it is forever changed, our children the tangible evidence of the passage of time.
Most of the pictures I took that day and night are blurry and that seems right somehow because the pictures are as imperfect as my memories of the past.
PHOTO CREDIT: VIKKI REICH