photo by Sheri Dixon

Sunday, July 4, 2010

America's Birthday From Uncle Pete's Porch

I grew up in Racine Wisconsin, a mid-to-large sized town squished in between Milwaukee and Chicago and clinging to the shores of Lake Michigan.

We were lucky, awash in family traditions for every holiday- and surrounded by kith, kin, inlaws and outlaws, relatives immediate and twice or third removed.

The most memorable Thanksgivings were at my Aunt Nora's house (Nora being my grandfather Norman's twin sister- his introductory line was always "This is my sister Nora- we were womb-mates"). Having a large family and small house, the unfinished basement was taken over for the day by folding tables and mismatched table cloths, one table designated as "the kids' table". My cousins (first and second) and I would hide out in the upstairs bedroom- the one all the coats were tossed into- and hover around the heating vent- you could hear every word the grownups were saying downstairs. That the conversation was mind-numbingly boring to children was not the point.

In later years, as the cousins all married and dispersed, Aunt Nora stopped hostessing it. Also, Uncle Bud's obsession to breed the first ever solid black guppy filled their basement with fish tanks. There was one enormous tank in their upstairs living room with nothing but gigantic, well-fed angelfish. They got the guppies that "didn't make the cut".

Christmases most remembered were at my grandmother's (Norman's wife) and the same rules applied- basement dining and upstairs spying, with many surreptitious forays to sniff the candle that sat on grandma's vanity- on the shelf to the right, a beautiful purple vanity lamp was on the left shelf complete with dangling crystals. This candle was in a white hobnailed holder, covered.
Years later, I found the exact same scent in a Yankee Candle- called (ironically) "Home Sweet Home" and I called my grandmother excitedly. She had no recollection of the original.

But the best holiday was the 4th of July- the day we got up early, dressed in layers, and partially drove, partially walked (a different distance each year depending on how close we could get)to Uncle Pete's Porch. Uncle Pete (actually GREAT uncle Pete- he was my father's uncle) and Aunt Bena lived on the corner of Main and St. Patrick in a huge rambling old victorian house with gigantic porches- the one facing Main St. came in very handy on the 4th of July- a perfect spot to watch the parade.

Though we'd arrive wearing long sleeved shirts (sometimes sweatshirts), by the time the parade was in full swing, we'd be stripped to our tank tops, the porch east facing and the sun full on us. Mattered not- we were above the bustling crowds that lined the parade route from Goold to 14th St.- through downtown and over 2 draw-bridges, and we were the lucky minority who had access to bathrooms, a refrigerator, and in later years, even air conditioning.

Aunt Bena would ply us with cookies and lemonade, and Uncle Pete would talk about his many years working for the Wink Soap Company. Aunt Rose (Uncle Pete's sister) would sometimes be there, and if we were very lucky, our Cousin Peter, who'd spent several years in the Peace Corp in India. Occasionally Cousin Pat would be there- the Unmarried Quiet One. Aunt Rose always said it was such a shame...she had such a pretty face...

The parade in Racine is big. In fact the Journal Times (where my grandfather Norman was comptroller for many years, my father a news photographer for many years, my mother a switchboard operator when she was in college and finally where I worked in circulation for a while) states that it's the largest parade in the midwest.

There are marching bands, politicians, fancy cars and shriners. Little bed of the pickup floats along side confetti-ed professional floats for the big corporations that call Racine their headquarters- SC Johnson, JI Case, InSinkErAtor. Garage bands sponsored by the many corner taverns and one old guy playing a calliope whose been part of the shindig since I was 4.

I miss the parade, and have yet to find one here in Texas that compares.

I miss having family around- Ward's is fragmented, and mine's all up yonder. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas I become restless, guilty, looking at my boy who has no huge family gatherings to line his childhood memory parts of his brain with. But not guilty enough to brave the cold, the slush, the ice and the snotcicles.

But I realized this year, I CAN give him the 4th. I CAN brave the nasty cold of a July morning in Wisconsin to give my son the parade. Although Uncle Pete's Porch doesn't belong to Uncle Pete anymore, both Pete and Bena being gone, I can give my boy the parade, and his grandparents, uncle and aunt- my folks and brother and sister-in-law.

And the night of the parade, I can give him fireworks on the shores of Lake Michigan- shot off of North Pier and visible from the lighthouse beach, Shoop Park beach, the Zoo beach, and all the way to Pershing Park. In the flashes you can see the flotilla of fishing and sail boats that are watching from on the water.

Next year. Independence Day in Wisconsin- to give my son roots and memories, history and family.

1 comment:

  1. good to hear from you

    prayers are with you as well