A way of letting you know that I haven't forgotten you and in hopes that you will not have forgotten me.
Photo by Andrea Sherrick
Pull up a chair and a tall glass of lemon-aide, slide the brim of your hat over the bridge of your nose, dangle your toes in the lake and forget about work for just a little while.....
A Star-Spangled Lullaby
by Crystal Neubauer
Rows of newly purchased Keds lined the gutter as I sat on the curb shoulder to shoulder with my cousins along First Street excitedly anticipating the distant rat-a-tat-tatting of the drums and the blaring of sirens which signaled the start of the parade. Our hands clutched little American flags waiting to wave them at the antique cars and floats passing by in hopes of being rewarded with a shower of candy for our patronage on that day.
For the first ten years of my life the Fourth of July was celebrated in much the same way. There was a strong sense of community in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois. The Fourth of July festivities was a good example of how the diverse faces that flavored the racial makeup of the mid-sized, mid-west town would come together without the self-consciousness that so often segregated other communities in those years. But community to me had more to do with the gathering of my aunts and uncles, grandparents and cousins, and the wide array of friends, and friends of those friends, who would turn out en masse early in the morning to unfold lawn chairs with newly webbed seats in Illini colors and spread out orange and blue plaid blankets claiming “our spot” along the curb.
After the parade we would happily clutch our bags of candy and pile into Dad's work van for the six block trek to Gramma and Papa's house, where we would spend the rest of the day oblivious to the continuing celebration at the Field House on the U of I campus. Here, we would spend the afternoon eating the ice cream Gramma had made the day before after hours and hours of hand-cranking, and we would fold paper airplanes to give to the uncles who would load them with Black Jacks and send them hissing into the air while the aunts scolded and warned us of the little boy who had lost the tips of his fingers after participating in just such folly.
Later in the day we would gather the lawn chairs and blankets again and head across the street to sit in the parking lot of the Radisson Hotel, where the white dome of the Assembly Hall was visible and the view of the fireworks display at the Stadium on Kirby Avenue was unobstructed by the cherry tree that filled Gramma's front yard. We'd chase each other with snap-n-pops exploding at our heals and wait for it to be dark enough for the fireworks to begin and then cuddle on the nearest lap. It didn't really matter whose, back then the arms weren't selective and were always open for one of the cousins to climb in. And just for a moment, in the bursts of those acrid-smelling stars, I held on to the illusion that begged me to believe that everything really was going to be okay.
Photo by Andrea Sherrick
This year Gramma was forced to give up her little ranch house on Birch street and go to live at the Champaign County Nursing Home. The same culturally rich faces were present as I remembered from my childhood, but now each one in a different state of decline. It was startling, really, to see her after all this time and realize she no longer knew my name. As I leaned in close her smile widened and she grabbed the sides of my cheeks in both hands as if she knew exactly who I was and she was delighted to see me after all this time. “Gramma, do you know who I am?” I asked with tears filling my eyes as she shook her head from side to side, the same wide silly grin still on her face highlighting the emptiness of her gaze.
Later she grabbed my face again and spoke, “You do look familiar....”, and I prompted her with names she might more easily recognize then mine, “Do I look like Dianna?”, as she shook her head once again my cousin Lony leaned in and giggled “You probably remind her of you!” And so we shared a laugh and Gramma sat smiling at us both, just happy to see somebody stop in front of her chair and keep her company for a while.
Walking through her house that afternoon, I stop to look through the large picture window of the living room and am struck by the lack of change in Gramma's front yard. The little concrete gnome still stands by the bird bath under the cherry tree, which has not grown much taller then it was when I was ten, just enough shade to cool under in the heat of the day, but still preventing a clear view of the night sky. I can nearly see the outline of the chairs scattered across the lawn and closing my eyes I can just catch the sound of my Gramma's voice calling my name and hear the laughter of the family that had once been so close.
Across the street I look to see that time has not stood still as I had hoped. The parking lot where those sweet summertime gatherings took place is no longer there and the view from Gramma's yard is nothing more then the cold brick backside of the newly renovated hotel. I load the boxes of memories into my car and head out for the three and a half hour drive. And as I watch Gramma's house disappear in the rear view mirror, I know in my heart that this town will always be my home.