My grandfather would have been 92 today, and this marks the first Fourth of July I’ve been away from my family in a long time, and the first without him: he was our Yankee Doodle Dandy.
As a young child, before I understood what exactly Independence Day was, I couldn’t quite believe that people set off fireworks for my grandfather’s birthday. But I discreetly accepted it: he was involved in city politics, people loved him, and that must be why someone ordered up fireworks every year. Those other city employees, maybe they just weren’t as loved—but I was glad my Pappy was!
Pretty much every year that I had the opportunity, I spent the 4th with my grandfather on his day. As a teenager, this led to some ire on the part of friends who thought it was some weird cover for getting out of going to whatever party they were having at their house. As a kid, the 4th meant good food, family, pool and fireworks at my wily Uncle Jack’s house. A lot of the cities in southern California banned fireworks at the time, so this was a pretty big deal. (That I had the opportunity to blow my fingers off as a kid in Japan a few years later, where there was no age-restriction on purchasing fireworks, was an even bigger deal. And unexpected, in such a safety-oriented culture…)
In more recent years, I really made the effort to be home for his birthday—I didn’t really know how many more we’d have left together. I only missed one in 2008, at his request: I’d just sold the house, and was under duress because one of the contingencies was that I move out in 3 weeks. When the housing market looked like it was about to go over a cliff, I was willing to do anything to get out! He understood, so I made sure to be there the next year.
This year I know the family will get together, and it will be different. But I can also hear my grandather saying, “Good heavens, my dear boy, don’t be silly and waste time on me. Go have fun!” So I wanted to celebrate a little differently too, and recognize my grandfather’s love of travel: I’ve spent the week exploring Michigan’s upper peninsula. Last night, we were in St. Ignace, and for the 4th, we’ll be going over to Mackinac Island for the day. It is especially fitting, because the last extended road trip he and my grandmother took was to Mackinac Island, about 13 years ago.
Yesterday, when I crossed a river that shares his last name, I knew I was headed in the right direction.
Happy birthday, Pappy, and happy fourth of July to everyone!