My brother Mark and I loved the farm on the Fourth and while we figured out how to have fun if we were in California, it was Winfield that we came to love on this most American annual celebration.
OK, es cierto. We mostly preferred Kansas because you literally got more bang for your buck. Fireworks were way cheaper and, hombre, could you get big stuff that really blew up. When you’re 9 o 11 o 13 años, bien, does it get any better?
The older cousins would teach us which ones made the most noise and which ones would drive Aunt Joan to tell us to be even more careful. I always got a kick out of walking out into the yard in front of the Conrod home the next morning and looking at the debris we needed to clean up. Sencillo. Fun. Family.
It was always hot. There was A/C for all the cousins crashing in sleeping bags in the basement. But it didn’t matter. We were all exhausted from eating, shooting at whatever cousin Joe thought was the most fun or catching fireflies for goodness-only-knows what reason. I was blessed to have a mother who had nine siblings and when the family came together it was, bien, it was raucous.
I remember that the uncles would gather to play cards. I loved just sitting there watching, trying to figure out why my dad played the card he did and see the strategy and luck come together. I remember too, the banter, the joking, the stories they would tell each other. Sencillo. Fun. Family.
Everything of course was in red, white and blue. Flags. Bunting. Paper plates. All of it. One cousin had memorized the Gettysburg Address and everyone would gather to hear him recite it. A couple of young cousins had put together a short play about America and we were all going to watch them perform that too. Sencillo. Fun. Family.
Francamente, each day around the Fourth at the farm was a three-ring circus. And we grew. By the time I was 16, I was in charge of making sure the younger cousins were having fun and were safe. I’d drive downtown to get the raft inflated. I’d be given the mission to make sure that there was enough water for everyone and that the coolers were iced down and that everyone got to eat. We went from kids to young adults on that farm and it made each of us who we are today.
When it was over, we’d pile back into the family station wagon and make the two-day trip back to Southern California. Mark and I would usually sleep the whole way because why would you rest when you’re at the farm?
As I look back now, I can see what my parents were actually doing by driving the three kids to Kansas. It wasn’t to teach us pyrotechnic safety. It wasn’t to teach us that an ace-high flush is a good thing (although I did learn that it is!). No, they used the Fourth of July break to teach us about family, about responsibility and about America.