Cousins are big to me. On June 30, 1982, I lost my brother, my only sibling. Now our father, the greatest guy who ever lived, was born on the 4th of July. And every year he threw himself a huge birthday party. When I was a kid, these were in the backyard, and I'd wake to John Philips Sousa marches playing loud outside and the smell of food on the grill. All day he cooked, and people came to eat and celebrate. Later, the parties were held at the beach, in rented beach houses. But in 1982, there was no party. Just stunned grief.
My dad died way too young, of lung cancer, in 1997. That July 4th my mom and several cousins and I went to Mexico, where there are no fireworks or BBQs. And that seemed appropriate. In the almost twenty years since, I've tried my hardest to avoid this celebration, the day when my dad would always marvel at how the entire country threw a bash for his birthday. Many years I've worked at writers conferences over the 4th, a blessed relief. But sometimes, like this year, I find myself with no alternative but to go to a cookout and watch fireworks from someone's back porch. Not the fireworks of my childhood, dangerous things that went up in a colorful crooked path of smoke and sparks, but ones that light the night sky like giant electric chrysanthemums.
First though, the cousins and I are bringing BBQ to Gogo's. We'll sit in that quiet yard and look for the fingerprints left behind on all those long ago 4th of Julys. Maybe we'll hear the faint beat of Stars and Stripes Forever. Maybe we'll catch a whiff of Italian sausages on the grill, a taste of Narragansett beer foamy from a keg. Maybe we'll hear all those voices we miss so much, celebrating. Maybe we'll glimpse a tall blond blue eyed guy, standing at the grill, a beer in his hand, smiling his crooked smile. At least I hope we will.