We had a crowd out to the house for the holiday. My Mom and Dad, their friends Joe and Judy and their two girls, whom my brother and I grew up with, and their families. All together we had eleven children and ten adults but we made enough food to feed fifty people, as is our entertaining style — It’s the Clark House, no one goes home hungry. A lot of laughter, loud kids, terrorized dogs, Catching Up, shop talk, and some card playing. Miraculously I could only count three “Whose kid’s crying? Is that *my* child crying? What’s a matter honey?” incidents in the entire six hour by eleven child visit. Once again, it was another gathering that you spend every minute from breakfast to the time of the gathering getting ready for. A pain in the rear by most people’s standards, but well worth the hassle. A wise friend of ours once told us, “Love is about being bothered for the sake of another.” I like that. It was a lot of bother, yes, but there was so much love, so much love.
So my Sappy Patriotic Fourth of July moment goes like this: We trudged the half mile down to the lakeshore, with kids on shoulders, strollers, and wagons to join maybe eighty or so of my neighbors to stand on a point on Taylor lake and watch fireworks. There were no fireworks overhead, except for some paltry personal ordinance purchased by some folks in the crowd, which would go off and make the parents of small children in the crowd nervous. We were able to see four different displays in the distance though, above the trees: Pasadena’s in the distance over our right shoulders, Webster’s off to the left at two o’clock, Clear Lake straight ahead, just left of the Nassau Bay Hilton, and Kemah’s over the trees to the right. They all started more or less at the same time, but Kemah’s and Clear Lake’s were most in parallel. Except Kemah’s were larger and brighter than Clear Lake’s, I maintain because while Clear Lake’s was a municipal show, Kemah’s fireworks were intended to help sell $25 seafood dinners at the restaurants by their now famous and touristy-kitschy boardwalk.
So there we were watching four fireworks shows, and my wife suggests that we start singing patriotic songs to accompany the fireworks, as there was no orchestra around. So I sang “It’s a grand old flag” in my best Ethel Merman voice, and we sang “Yankee Doodle Dandy” in our best Mickey Rooney voices, a campy good time being had by all who knew who Ethel Merman and Mickey Rooney were.
And then Marian broke out into the “Star Spangled Banner.” And so I started in my mock “B-list celebrity singer starting a baseball game voice” and soon realized that Marian was using her real voice. Seriously. So I switched to my real voice. Seriously. And then my other friends — we’d all been in High School Choir together — joined in. So as we got to “rockets red glare…” the finales of the two main fireworks shows started. And when the fireworks stopped, we kept still and kept singing. And when the fireworks stopped, leaving those little grey-dusty smoke spiders in the air to float slowly away (as a kid I was always afraid of the smoke spiders), I could hear that the others — everyone else in the crowd — had joined us in singing the National Anthem. Standing still and singing in the dark, smoke spiders and all.
And when we finished I heard a few sniffs and saw a few of the women wipe their eyes in that mascara-preserving way they do. And as we turned to lug our children home in our various conveyances, I realized that I had teared up too. Sometimes I remember that I really do believe in this stuff.