Here at Abernethy Laurels in Newton, N.C., the Fourth of July is not a time for fireworks and loud music, long-winded speeches and hot dogs, indigestion and sunburn.
Rather, it seems to be a time for reflection and appreciation. The campus is covered with all sizes of the Star-Spangled Banner and residents gather quietly to talk about past “Fourths," travel plans and, of course, visits by loved ones.
In the 120 homes in the Village, the U.S. military's former presence is well represented, and most every home is decorated with pictures of former soldiers, sailors, airmen, WACs and military nurses. And the assisted living pavilion and health care are also well represented in the former service category.
I grew up in a rural community in the North Carolina foothills, where the Fourth of July was a very special time. Since my brothers and I sold newspapers, magazines, Cloverine salve and anything else we could find to turn a profit, we also were the distributors of illegal fireworks, although we were never approached by the law about the error of our ways and always had a nice audience on the Fourth when we fired off everything that wasn't sold.
My dad, who only drank “likker” when he was alone or with somebody, usually came home in the middle of the demonstration, “commode-hugging drunk,” and was adamant about his knowledge of the latest attraction put out by the manufacturer, and after telling everybody to stand back, proceeded to bravely put the “fire to the fuse.”
On one occasion, we were fairly close to the end of the show, saving a new item, a sensational two-shot repeater for the grand finale, when Dad drove up, extracted himself from the old Ford Model A and demanded the “punk," a long-smoldering fuse igniter. He never bothered to see exactly what he was lighting, in this case an item that fired once on the ground and hurled another charge high into the air for the second heavy explosion. The grand finale expected to leave the whole neighborhood in awe and already waiting for next year's offering from the illegal explosive “warehouse.”
Pausing for effect and raising the “punk” into the air, he bravely stepped forward and lit the fuse. As sometimes happened when fireworks were handled repeatedly, the two-shot repeater just sat there “looking soggy," as Dad now stepped front and center to see exactly what the problem was. Just as he looked down the barrel top of the contraption, it decided to perform. After a terrific boom, the second projectile, instead of rising to the heavens, creased Dad's cheek, climbed only about six feet into the air before exploding again, right over his head, thrilling the entire neighborhood and sobering Dad up enough to stumble into the house, complaining that they didn't make 'em like they used to.
We provided this little community service for a few more years, and the crowd seemed to be getting larger every year, but Dad never showed up again until the smoke had cleared and the crowd had dispersed. However, business picked up as everyone wanted to buy the new “two-shot repeater."