It’s weekends like this one, when family and friends observe July Fourth traditions over hamburgers, junk food, and fire crackers, that many of us reflect on those who paid the ultimate price to give us freedom.
For me the holiday is also filled with memories of my dad driving my mom, me, and my three siblings to St. Clair, Michigan, to spend the day with his parents, Grandma and Grandpa Blumer, and my many cousins, aunts, and uncles.
My grandparents lived at 232 South 9th Street in a tan two-story frame house much like those around it. My dad and his four brothers grew up in this house (wish I had a photo of it). Unfortunately, the place has long since been sold after Grandma Blumer passed away on January 15, 2000, after a stroke at age 87. She knew her Savior and is surely spending days of wonder at His side.
Though the house is gone, certainly giving much joy to its current owners, the place is very much alive in my memories. In fact, all special places from my past (special because of good memories from childhood, I suppose) always stand out in my history like signposts. They tempt me to reach for a photo album and get lost in moments of my past frozen on paper.
Aren’t photos amazing? As long as the photo survives, the moment, the people, the mood, the occasion—all of it is frozen in a “present” that can never change.
When I was a kid, I remember following my dozen or so cousins from Grandma’s house down to the boardwalk on the St. Clair River. The evening of July Fourth was always a special time to watch the fireworks over the river.
I confess that I don’t remember the fireworks as much as the river and the people whose lives were closely connected to it.
When my dad was a boy, he and his brothers swam in the river, boated in the river, and once floated on inner tubes to the Canadian shoreline on the other side. I remember him sharing about people he knew who’d drowned in the river. He told me lots of other stories too: mostly about the pranks he and his four brothers pulled on unsuspecting friends and neighbors. Nothing too serious. Certainly nothing to land them in jail.
Other stories come to mind too: the neighborhood woman who chased her husband around with a hatchet (and was later committed to an asylum), his paper route and his dog Freckles riding along in his backpack, his recollection of burying a tin container somewhere in the backyard (a treasure) containing odds and ends including a biscuit and an Indian arrow head. Where it is only God knows.
On July Fourth at Grandma’s house, I’m sure we ate watermelon and hot dogs and watergate salad. I know we lit “sparklers” and pranced around in the dark, brandishing those hot sticks until they burned themselves out or scorched our hands.
But what I mostly remember about July Fourth at Grandma’s house are the loving people I knew and the interesting stories they shared while sitting in a circle of lawn chairs in Grandma’s backyard.
That’s what writing fiction is all about: taking stories and people from real life and morphing them in ways that protect the innocent and entertain the curious. In many ways the past is inescapable from any author and what he or she writes. It is very much part of our present and the people we are today. So why shun it?
So I say, live in the past and live life to its fullest. Light a fire cracker. Savor the watermelon. Fill photo albums until they’re bursting with memories you’ll someday look back on and find great material for your own stories.
Note: Family members, if you have a different recollection of any of my details, please comment and let me know. The past has a way of becoming fictionalized over time. But that’s how it can become material for great fiction.
What about you? Do you have any special memories of family get-together like those at July Fourth? Do you have any true stories you can morph into great fiction?
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