Independence Lost and Found

July 1, 2011. During the years of my early childhood, I ADORED the month of July. What young kid doesn’t love thirty-one days of pure, unadulterated FUN?! No school, no homework, very few chores, and as much play time in the fresh Wisconsin air that my adorable self could take in. Back in the stone ages those days, parents rarely had to worry about their children being abducted by strangers. In fact, I would venture to guess that my mom, busy raising 6 children, may have secretly wished once or twice that a few of her beautiful offspring would be abducted… temporarily, of course…just long enough for her to have an uninterrupted “Calgon take me away” moment.

My favorite day in July was the 4th. The celebration was non-stop fun. The day always started with my dad helping my brother and I to decorate our bikes for the city parade. I would adorn my bicycle with crepe paper streamers, red and white striped plastic straws on the wheel spokes, and I’d fill the basket on the front with wild flowers that I had stolen from found in my neighbor’s back yard. Riding with pride of patriotism, I’d pedal my way down Main Street with my brother Ted and the other kids in town. My mom would stand on the sidewalk, smiling and waving proudly as we pedaled past her.

After the parade, I’d go home and find my daddy starting off his favorite holiday with one of his favorite past times…being the master of his outdoor domain…the grill. I’m pretty sure it’s a cave man instinct that causes grown men to want to cook meat over hot coals, and let me tell you, Ed Heflin took that job seriously! He would stand over the Weber, a basting brush in one hand, a dry martini in the other. He’d bath pieces of chicken in barbeque sauce and let them grill until the sugar in the sauce caramelized to a blackened char. Then we’d invite the neighbors over to picnic with our family. My dad would spend hours delighting our guests with his exuberant hospitality. Incidentally, how is it possible that a burned piece of chicken is a perfectly acceptable and edible menu item to serve to guests, but a burned piece of toast isn’t? If you have thoughts, ideas, or answers to this (or any of life’s other burning questions), please share them with me!

When our stomachs had been filled with delicious food and the neighbors had gone home, our family would pile into our aquamarine Vista Cruiser and head over to the other side of town to watch the fireworks display. If there was ever a time when I felt that our family was a solid, functional, all-American unit, the 4th of July was it.  No fighting, no shouting… just smiles and fun.

Independence Day celebrations went along smoothly at our house until I reached my early teen years. Then, after the fireworks display on July 4th, 1979, my world was flipped upside down. I was awakened at 3:20am on July 5th and given the news that my beloved daddy had suffered a fatal heart attack. How was this possible?!  He was only 48 years old! I felt as though my insides had been ripped out.

I was born on my father’s birthday, and he was taken from me on our favorite holiday. Let me tell you, nothing hurts quite as much as losing your hero when you’re 15 years old.

This 4th of July will mark 32 years since my dad’s untimely death, and although I always celebrate the holiday, I’ve never quite been able to fully enjoy the 4th of July celebrations as much as I did in my youth. Independence Days as I knew them were lost forever… and yet, I was gaining independence as well. By being forced to grow up quickly, I was given the gift of an expedited jump into adulthood.

I still miss him deeply…

In memory of Daddy, we’ll be firing up the grill this weekend. I’m willing to wager that you already know what the main course will be… J

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