22
Jun

A Fourth of July Short Story

Agnes pulled in her driveway and stepped out of her Prius. Her neighbor, Millie, hailed from across the street. “Yoo-hoo! Agnes! Wait up. Happy Fourth of July!” She scurried across the street.

Millie was the last person Agnes wanted to talk to. They had nothing in common. Millie’s husband, George, was a Revolutionary War collector. Their house looked like a museum full of Revolutionary War relics. Why did Millie put up with such nonsense?

Millie ran up, breathlessly, “Are you coming to the Independence Day celebration at the Vet’s Memorial Building tonight? They’re having a military band, Viet Nam veteran speakers, and fireworks after the meeting. You’re welcome to ride over with us.”

Agnes lifted her grocery bags from the back seat. “Sorry, can’t make it. Gotta’ get these things inside. Frozen stuff. Talk to you later.” She hurried into the house. A twinge of guilt gripped her chest. Snubbing Millie wasn’t very nice, but Millie was so gol-darned boring. Every conversation somehow turned to her latest E-Bay purchase. A Minute Man rifle. A battered sword. A faded British shirt. Agnes sighed. Who cared about all that stuff anymore? What difference did it make, anyway, two hundred years later?

The Fourth of July was such a nuisance. The fireworks always got all the neighborhood dogs barking and the streets were a cluttered mess the next morning.

Agnes preferred closing the blinds and going to bed early. Kids down the street were already shooting off fireworks. She closed her eyes…

Agnes jerked and twisted, thrashing her pillow. What? Why was she in the middle of a battlefield? The boom-boom of fireworks became the sound of a beating drum. The sun blazed down on men dressed in brilliant red jackets. Sweat poured from their faces. They marched in a straight row toward an outline of shadowy figures in buckskin, hiding behind rocks and trees.

Agnes stared at the soldiers moving forward with guns drawn. Redcoats? From England? What?How did she get here? She didn’t belong here! She couldn’t be here. The field would soon be littered with dead and dying men. She turned and tried to run. She must be dreaming. Wake up! Wake up!

Someone grabbed her arm, dragged her from the line of fire and pulled her down behind a rock. Her heart pounded. Perspiration trickled down her forehead. She crouched beside the men, so close she could smell their sweat. Older soldiers grimaced, their lined faces knowing what was soon to come. “Hold the line, men. Steady now.” Younger soldiers, terrified of the unknown, sniffled as the enemy advanced, step by step to the beat of their drum. Though the ragtag soldiers were outnumbered by the advancing troops, they had the advantage of the cover of trees and rocks. The men primed their guns with powder and ball and squatted in the dirt, waiting, waiting as the formidable enemy advanced.

She had to get away. This couldn’t be real! She knew she was dreaming! Why couldn’t she wake up?

The drumbeat stopped. Silence! What happened? She peeked around the rock. There was the enemy, frozen in time, guns at the ready, feet in mid-step. The flag drooped, unmoving. The drummer’s drumstick hung suspended in mid-air, above his drum.

Agnes lifted her head toward the brilliant sky where scattered patches of clouds gathered as though suspended from wires on a stage. Overhead, a bird hung motionless.

She opened her eyes, and blinked against the darkness in her own bedroom. “I was dreaming!” Dreams were, after all, just snatches of thoughts and memories, sounds and sights stored willy-nilly in one’s mind and pulled into a fractured scenario to haunt our restless minds. She shuddered. There was a day when her dream had been the reality for many others.

She turned toward the window. It had begun to rain and rivulets streaked the glass, curving and twisting as they traversed the pane. Outside, the tree in the backyard wavered in the wind of an unseasonable summer shower. The Fourth of July celebrations and fireworks must have ended by now. Agnes put her hand to her pounding heart. It was just a dream. Everything was fine. Just a dream.

Agnes rose from her bed and found a book about the Revolutionary War in her library. She sat in a rocker and began to read:

For the sake of independence, farmers, storekeepers, bankers, men from all walks of life, rebelled at the tyranny England imposed on their fledgling nation. Ill equipped, with antiquated guns and untrained, the Continental soldiers chose to fight a highly-trained army made up of Englishmen, German mercenaries, and Hessians.

The Revolutionary war lasted over eight years.
The estimated population in America in 1776 was three million.
80,000 militia and Continental Army soldiers served at the height of the war
25,000 American Revolutionary soldiers died during the war
8,000 more Revolutionary soldiers died from wounds inflicted during battle
17,000 Revolutionary soldiers died from disease
25,000 Revolutionary soldiers were estimated to have been wounded or maimed
1 in 20 able-bodied men living in America died during the war.

All for the sake of following generations, so we could have the freedom to make laws and live by our own rules as established by the Declaration of Independence.

Agnes called Millie’s answering machine and left a message. “This is Agnes. Sorry I couldn’t make it tonight. I hope you had fun. I promise I’ll come with you next year. Our freedom is important, isn’t it? We need to remember what the holiday cost our forefathers. It really matters.”

Agnes returned to her bedroom with her cat. Boom! Another firecracker cracked in the night. Agnes turned to her cat. “Does that child have any idea what he’s celebrating?”

Agnes’s cat blinked as though he had no answer to the provocative question.

 

5
Jun

REPRINT Our Honeymoon Story (58 years later)

With our 58th wedding anniversary next week, I thought it was time to share our honeymoon story again. Hope your honeymoon wasn't quite as eventful, but still filled with love and good memories.

While sorting through my cedar hope chest recently, I uncovered my wedding gown and honeymoon nightie. A few shreds of rice still clung to the polyester material. I thought back on the days of our unusual honeymoon as I folded and smoothed the purple nightie.

June 17, 1962 was a perfect day. The sun beamed through the stained glass windows. The scent of flowers and music filled the auditorium.

“With this ring, I thee wed,” and we were man and wife, twenty years, and eighteen-years-old respectively.

Following the reception, consisting of wedding cake and fruit punch, we raced through torrents of rice, eager to reach our secret honeymoon motel in a nearby lake resort town. That night, we planned to celebrate by having dinner at a real restaurant.

While dating, we had eaten at hotdog stands, drive-in movie snack shacks and BBQ’s with family, but we had never gone to a real restaurant. A candlelight dinner at a restaurant was a rite of passage, signifying that we were now married adults. It would be a cherished memory, a perfect beginning to our wedding night.

The sun shone hot on our heads as we drove with the top down on our 1958 MGA.   The excitement of the day took a toll on my young husband. His head began to throb and maybe “nerves” played a role as well. In our day, “the wedding night” created some anxieties than many young grooms don’t experience today.  Several hours later, we reached our honeymoon cottage on the shores of a sparkling lake. My young husband threw himself on the bed, head pounding, eyes aching, a wet cloth held to his forehead, and begged to be allowed to die in peace. He wasn’t up to dinner at a fancy restaurant.

“Tomorrow, honey,” he promised, “just let me go to bed.”

A brand new blushing bride, I pushed a grocery cart through a tiny grocery store in the resort town on my wedding eve, and selected spaghetti, hamburger, tomato sauce, lettuce, and salad dressing. I soon found myself in front of a tiny stove in our honeymoon cottage, cooking spaghetti on my wedding night while my husband groaned on the bed.

“I hope this isn’t a sign of what’s ahead,” I thought, as I added a pinch of salt to the boiling water. “This is NOT how I planned my wedding night.”

Monday dawned bright and clear, a hot and perfect June day and we slept late, lulled by the lapping waves on the nearby shore, headaches and anxieties of the day before a forgotten memory. We spent the afternoon in the park in the shade of a willow tree, watching the squirrels. We kissed and spoke of where we would have our special dinner that night, a celebration of our one-day anniversary. We swam and frolicked in the lake. My new lord and master climbed a nearby diving board.

“Hey, Hon, look at me,” he shouted, spreading his arms and launching himself in a perfect swan dive into the sparkling water below.

Somewhere between “Look at me,” and the sparkling water below, something went dreadfully wrong with his perfect dive. He hit the water with a resounding “kersplash.” Breaking the surface of the water, he held his hand to his left ear.

“I think I broke something.” The local emergency room confirmed, indeed, a broken eardrum. The doctor advised bed rest and a quiet night…

As a recently married woman, I pushed a grocery cart through a tiny grocery store in the resort town and selected hamburger, tomato sauce and French bread. On my one-day anniversary, I stood in front of the tiny stove, my young husband sleeping off the effects of pain medications.  The water lapped onto the shore next to our honeymoon cottage as I sighed and heated  spaghetti sauce.

Tuesday dawned bright and clear, and we slept late, being lulled by the lapping waves on the nearby shore. All afternoon we streaked across the beautiful waves in a rented speedboat, churning up the water. We looked forward to a romantic dinner that night to celebrate our two–day anniversary. The sun shone deceivingly on my young husband’s bare legs and they changed from white, to pink, to bright red.

My young husband moved slowly toward our car, each painful step tugging at his sunburned legs. He tried to pull on his trousers but the effort was too painful. My young husband lay on the cool asbestos tile floor (who knew?) of our honeymoon cottage, moaning.

“I don’t think I can put my pants on. Sorry, Hon. No fancy dinner. Maybe tomorrow.”

A fairly jaded wife, I pushed a grocery cart through the tiny grocery store in the resort town and selected hamburger, tomato sauce and cookies. The storeowner smiled. After all, I had shopped there three days in a row and was his newest most-frequent shopper. I vowed to speak to mother about marriage. If this were going to continue, I would need to learn to cook something besides spaghetti.

Wednesday dawned bright and clear, we slept late…  We spent the afternoon driving around the lake. In the late afternoon, we stopped at a nice restaurant before any further calamity. We celebrated our three-day anniversary. It was as romantic as I had imagined. My husband’s head didn’t ache, his ear didn’t throb, his sunburn had faded to a dull pink, his pants were on, we didn’t eat spaghetti and I didn’t have to cook.

After dinner, at a drive-in theater, necking in the front seat somehow didn’t have its previous pre-marriage appeal. We determined it would be best to leave when the movie was only half over. It was getting very late, you see, nearly 9:30 after all, and we were anxious to return to our honeymoon cottage

Thursday dawned bright and clear, and we slept late, lulled by the waves…

By late afternoon, we thought about the events of the week so far. A migraine, a broken eardrum, a sunburn, and it became clear that we should cut our honeymoon short and return home before any further disaster occurred. I felt the need to speak to mother about marriage in general and recipes in particular.  By early evening, we bid the honeymoon cottage farewell and started for home.

We were both eager to reach home and resume…what honeymooners resume. The air was warm and balmy as we left the resort town. A crooked road down the mountain would take 30 minutes off our travel time. Driving the mountain road was difficult, with switchbacks and no roadside safety rails. Slowly maneuvering hairpin curves, eyes wide, we saw broken, twisted cars in the canyons below. Had they run off the road or were they shoved into the canyon to dispose of them?  At the bottom of the mountain, the valley stretched before us, and the terrible ordeal was finally over.

My young husband shifted gears and revved the engine. Nothing happened. He shifted to another gear and stepped on the gas. Nothing happened. The car coasted into a convenient gas station. He crawled under the car, and found….a broken axle. Sweat beaded on his forehead as he thought about what might have happened if the axle had broken at the top of the mountain on the winding road. We were safe, thank God, but how would we get home, 80 miles away?

As a mature, experienced wife of four days, able to handle any emergency, I dropped coins into the telephone. Daddy answered, and I said, “ Daddy, come get me….” whereupon, Daddy exploded,

“What’s wrong? Where are you? What has that beast done to my baby girl?” I explained that the beast had done nothing that I didn’t want done, but never the less, the axle on the MG was broken and we needed a tow.

Daddy drove for an hour and a half, rescued his baby girl and towed the car 80 miles unceremoniously at the end of a rope; a discouraged young bride and disgruntled half-frozen groom.

If we had seriously analyzed the disasters of the week, and felt them to be prophetic of our future life together, we might have applied for an annulment the next morning.  Perhaps we were too naïve, too inexperienced, or too much in love to realize the pitfalls that lay ahead.   58 years have passed and my husband’s hair is gray and my face is wrinkled. Through our marriage, we have encountered sickness and health, success and failure, joy and sorrow, but we continue to face life’s challenges together.

I placed the nightie back into the hope chest.  The pungent aroma of cedar clung in the air as I closed the lid.  I closed my eyes, thinking for a moment of those exciting, wonderful days and relived the thrills, frustrations and romance.

Returning to the kitchen, I put a pinch of salt into the spaghetti bubbling on the stove. Like a pinch of salt, it takes a touch of adversity to enhance the flavor to appreciate the fullness of life.  I smiled at the memory of a honeymoon cottage by the shores of a sky-blue lake, and a tiny stove, where another pot of spaghetti bubbled three nights in a row. Despite the unusual circumstance we shared that week, it was the most wonderful, exciting, perfect honeymoon a woman could ever experience, because I was with the man I love.

 

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