NEVER CELEBRATE THE FOURTH OF JULY ON SUNDAY We arrived at Lake Jefferson early Saturday Morning, the third of July
in two cars. Dad=s Buick and Bea, his mother riding with Carl in her handy-man=s old Ford Model AA@ pickup. Bea=s new
handyman, Carl Olafsen, chugging along behind limiting our speed, was towed a shabby, home made fishing boat, on an equally decrepit jerry-built trailer resurrected from one of Henry Ford=s finest, still sporting the model AT@ wooden wheels. I had
wanted to ride in our nicer trailer with Dad=s new garden tractor, but Dad screamed, NO! Dad said the new tractor and all of its attachments were insured against all hazards but because I was so full of bugs, he couldn=t get a policy on me. Dad probably bought special insurance because of the sad ending of his old and much smaller run-a-way mower that ate all of our new neighbor=s tulips and terrorized their valiant and noisy Dachshund watchdog. The dog, chased by our runaway mower, swerved just as they reached the goldfish pond, but the stalwart mower barged ahead to expire in steaming glory. That vagabond mower had cured that neighbor=s short-legged protector of his incessant yapping, the whole neighborhood hated so much. Maybe the sacrifice was worthwhile. Now, the dog might occasionally bark, but only at
the mailman, and with a feebleness that even the most dog-wary person knew is non-threatening. Dad, being an efficiency expert was expert, at finding bugs and one of mine was a voracious and never satisfied hunger.
Suspicious Dad must have read my mind and kept me from the goodies in the trailer. Along with the mower, Dad had stashed
Grandpa=s old pop cooler from his closed filling station, and I had watched Mom and Cindy stuff that cooler full of goodies, liberally covering them with a thick layer of enough chipped ice for the annual Fourth of July, home made ice-cream debauchery. Our Fourth of July ice cream was always just plain vanilla made with Watkin=s real vanilla extract. This year, there would be strawberry topping or Mom=s homemade root beer for floats so cold they made your eyes ache, but too good to eat slow. I wanted to be that cooler=s guardian, and sampling the treats. Dad had said our trailer was unsafe because, it too, had been made from an old junked car, but ten years newer than Carl=s, and then, he laughed big. Another of his jokes I just
didn=t get. Dad always talked to me and Cindy like we were adults. We knew when to laugh because he always laughed big at the funny part. In our family, everyone laughed at Dad=s jokes.
I used to ask, Cindy who is two years older, AWhat=s funny?@ until she began teasing me about my child-like naivete, as if she always understood. I sometimes told her stories I said I had overheard, but had really made-up, and then I would laugh evilly at the end as if there was something secretly funny. She always laughed with me. Cindy doesn=t fool me, but I won=t let her know I=m on to her, cause she=s tall as Ma, and can pin me like she was a regular over-sized boy.
My friends tell me her powers will fade next year when she=s sixteen and get=s kissed by some boy. Now she has redder hair, I Don=t
than me, has more freckles, and is four inches taller.
know why any boy would want to kiss her, but she wears lipstick, anyway. Grandmother Bea says less is always more when putting on makeup, but she has hearing problems and doesn’t even hear herself, now that she has her handy-man. Mom says her mother-in-law should have waited a year after Grandpa died, but I said Carl is so slow and clumsy, that he would never get caught up with chores if he had to wait a year to start. Dad laughed, as if I had put in a funny part. Whenever I go to Course, I
don=t think Carl is so handy, anyway. Grandma’s, I only see her working.
Carl whittles and whistles,
just like a warbling bird, but he won=t tell me how to do it. We were quite a caravan, almost a block long. Our family in the new Buick Station Wagon, pulling Dad=s home-made over-stuffed trailer with a ton of our long weekend needs, followed by Carl and grandma in his old truck, pulling the rickety trailer overloaded with the resurrected rowboat swerving back and forth like a conga line. The boat had been a flower planter at
Gibson=s mortuary until it started to decompose so they hired Carl to burn it. This trip would be the patched boat=s inaugural
as ABea=s Barge@ proudly pronounced in gold squiggly letters like on a Bible cover. Dad told Carl, if he had spent as much time
and used as much skill repairing the boat as he did painting its
name, it might float.
Dad said he could hardly wait, but drove
slow enough for Carl to follow as he didn’t=t want him to get lost. It was only twenty-five miles from Mankato to Lake
Jefferson, but Dad said Carl would get lost finding his way out of town. Soon as we pulled in our lot, Dad expertly backed our trailer across our driveway to unload his tractor. ours, as we had all chipped in. I should say
On his Father=s Day Card, I had Cindy, my
wrote ‘from Jeffrey Moline, $2.57 with love’.
sophisticated sister, who thought she was an adult at fourteen, said only a twelve year old would be crass enough to put down the amount of their gift. I had worked hard and saved my money, and
was proud of my gift. Sometime, I would look up crass, but coming from Cindy, it had to be terribly insulting. You remember, I told you Dad is an efficiency expert. He works for the Government and had a chore list for each of us. Dad listed everything that had to be done on Saturday, and who would do it. Nothing but rest and religion was scheduled for Sunday, and only fun on Monday. I guess I am glad he=s got so much efficiency because he sure is not a good forecaster. Dad is a minister=s son, and the son of a filling station owner, but not anymore. I mean Grandpa had been both. Grandma Bea=s new handyman was not very much like Grandpa. My Saturday chores were small-kid boring kind. best ones. Carl had the
On the west side of Jefferson Lake, there was a
farmer named Schultz, who rented boats and milked cows.
always got the cream for our Independence Day ice cream there, but he sold his cows and farm to a man that=s going to build a dance hall and bait house there. Schultz had chickens, too, and the boss rooster of his flock, got away during the farm auction. That was Memorial Day Weekend, and I had biked over to the sale. The rooster chased or followed me home, and established residence in the big apple tree behind our privy. When we went
back to town, Mother left bread and cereal scraps on the roof of the privy for that old rooster. I know he was old because chickens only grow so much each year, and he was big as the geese that come by our lake each spring and fall. She liked to hear that old rooster crow at Sunup. Dad did not. Dad said, “We are
going to eat that barnyard alarm clock, no matter how tough he is, as a symbol of our freedom on Independence Day.” Most of the time, Dad’s word is law, but only if Mother agrees. Carl=s first Saturday chore was to catch, kill and clean that mighty and fierce white monster Rooster, so Mom could work the culinary magic that would make that tough bird, edible. Mom
said she=d boil him all night in her pressure cooker for canning, but he=d still be too tough to eat. Cindy told me that Mom had
secretly packed a pot roast big enough to last the whole holiday weekend. Mom told her, “Carl can=t move fast enough to catch that old rooster, even if he=s twice as old as Carl, in chicken years.”
It would be a tough task as that bird thought he owned us all and only allowed us to use his cabin on weekends. Only Dad, was stubborn enough to eat any of that tough old bird. My most important task was to gather up the empty catsup and soft drink bottles Mother had collected over the year, and wash and sterilize them in the big washtub, that had been packed away in the old sauna bath facility before Dad had built the new combination shower house and sauna, down on the bank of the lake. Washing them was foolish since who could tell the difference, but getting the labels off was very hard. Later, I would get to cap the bottles too, after Mother had filled them with her secret concoction of herbs and spices, she called root beer. It was a big batch, for the whole summer. Dad said Mother was too sparing of yeast and sugar and needed to give the brew some kick and always discretely added more. Mom would always marvel that so
little yeast had given her root beer so much foam and bubbles. Cindy had to clean the sauna and pick up the dead fish on the beach, which she said was the most important job because Dad loved his Saunas and had a sensitive nose. Besides being efficient, Dad is Finish. Grandma says he is only if she says he
is, and laughs. She does jokes, I don=t understand, too. Mother had the additional task of cooking, like ever other day, but her extra task was making the summer root beer. She
used a big old stoneware crock the previous owner of our cabin had left in the well pit. Mom gathered crushed mint leaves
sassafras shoots and fresh ground ginger root, that had wintered in last year=s garden. She mixed the ingredients along with mystery herbs kept hidden. Boiling the herbs and sugar water began the minute we arrived. This year, both Grandma Bea and Dad snuck in the kitchen while Mom was resurrecting the ice cream churn from the garage, and added extra sugar and yeast to the boiling herb mix. Carl had miraculously caught and imprisoned the rooster in the garage and when Mom opened the door, searching for the churn, she was blitzed by the freedom seeking the bird. Dad was unloading the mower close by, and laughed when Mom panicked spilling a full pitcher of ice cream makings on her and the rooster. pitcher That was a mistake, but he expertly ducked the empty she threw at him.
After spending most of Saturday, in futile efforts to recapture the taunting bird, Carl rebelled and backed his boat trailer down the steep backyard bank to the lake and declared he was going fishing. Dad was upset but secretly glad to have him gone, especially if the boat was as unseaworthy as it looked. When Dad found out Carl was taking Bea along, he demanded to see and test all of Carl=s life jackets, but was not terribly surprised to find there were none. AThe boat can=t sink, I fixed
her myself and she=s sturdy as a battleship,@ Carl said confidently. “Carl, you can=t take my mother in your ‘Bismarck’, unless
she=s got a life preserver on. There i=s a bunch of them hanging on the west wall of the garage.@ Dad said sternly. “Well, I wi=ll dig out a life jackets from the garage, I guess,” Carl said sullenly. Carl is not good at finding things. Dad says he couldn’t find the location of the last piece on a jig saw puzzle, but not even my sister could be that dumb.. Dad=s planning and time schedule was not to be questioned, except by Mother. Dad never did tell her what to do, but I Everyone=s chore would be
guess, kitchens don=t use efficiency.
done before Sunday, which Dad said was a day of rest and repentance, and then glared meaningfully at his mother. Sunday, being the fourth, we wouldn’t have fireworks, but Waterville=s Town Board thought patriotism and religion could co-exist. and their display would be just across the lake from our summer cabin. Mother, had cleaned and waxed the floors, made potato salad, deviled eggs, seasoned some canned beans and made some fresh rhubarb pies. While the beans and pies were baking, she brought
up the big crock of burbling root beer from the pump house. Cindy And, I think that Dad learned his efficiency from our mother. I was sent for the bottle capper and a tub of assorted cleaned and boiled bottles appeared while I was gone, waiting for my careful bottling operations. Our bottle capper looks something like a bumper jack, and is fun to run. Dad had taught me how to use the capper, then left to unload
He didn’t want my help or anyone else=s as he had
engineered our trailer specifically for easy loading and unloading by one man. Mom, then showed me how she wanted the
bottles capped so the lids would clinch and firmly contain the pressurized root beer. I had filled and capped almost half the bottles, when I heard my father, who never swears, cursing at Spider, our former neighbor=s cow dog. Spider, who is really a bird dog, but lived at the Schultz farm masquerading as a farm dog, is facing Dad and barking furiously. I thought Spider, turned mad from hydrophobia as he had white stuff in his mouth. Dad was like fencing with
Spider, using the spilled pitcher to fend him away. The white stuff in the dog=s mouth was feathers, the tail feathers of the mighty rooster who had taken refuge behind Dad. The now tailless
rooster saw me open the door, and took off half-flying on tippytoes for the safety of our house. Soon as the rooster, shot
between my legs, I shut the screen door, but Spider ran right through the screen, after the bird. Turning, I watched the rooster use his wings to make an abrupt right turn, into the kitchen, landing on the counter where Mom was beating eggs for the replacement ice cream mix. Spider did not make the turn and slid down the freshly waxed hall, through the back screen door and out into the yard. Mom closed the heavy winter doors and then grabbed the cowering giant rooster, around the neck. “You=re doomed to be stew, bird. I’ve
got an alarm clock so who needs you!” Mom said. She took the Doomed bird to Dad who stood outside, still transfixed, openmouthed and armed with the big, empty serving pitcher. AKill and clean this buzzard, now Clarence,” Then Mother turned to her Mother-in-law, who sat in Carl=s boat, still on it=s trailer, but poised for launching on the lip of the hill to our beach. Florence?” She demanded. “I=m the ballast in Carl=s boat,” and she sat imperiously erect on the seat, like an aged Cleopatra, commanding her barge. Carl sat in his truck, prepared to back the boat laden trailer down the steep bank. “Get ma out of that boat, right now,” demanded Mom, and Carl jumped out of his truck, unfortunately leaving it now un-braked. Gravity ruled, and the empty truck, trailer, boat and Grandma rushed down the steep bank. Carl never reached or rescued his sweetheart and employer and the truck ended mired in the sandy “What on earth, are you doing,
beach, while the boat and Grandma sailed off into the lake. Grandma did not scream or yell, but rode victoriously without toppling from her regal perch. Even as the fishing boat, sank to the shallow bottom. She hollered so loud that all of Waterville could hear, “Carl you clown, you make boats as bad as you make love. I will kill you if I discover how to swim ashore.” “You should have soaked the boat to expand the old wood, and seal the cracks, Carl.” Dad said, without panicking. He no longer
held the tailless chicken, which was heading for the willow trees down by the lake. “Can your Ma swim?” Carl asked, and began stumbling down to the beach, “Cause I can=t.” “She=s mad as a wet hen, and wet hen=s can=t swim. Best we
just let her cool off a bit, it=s not deep enough to drown there, even in a sunk boat.” Dad backed his new Garden Tractor down the steep slope, and waded toward his mother. “I’ll carry you in, if you’ll promise to forget about killing Carl, and go to church tomorrow. It is time for you to forgive God for taking Dad.”