Excerpt from Cool Nation

This is the fourth section from the fourth chapter. All other excerpts are on the sidebar, lower right.

Lives Forming

You�d wake up early because you had to, because you couldn�t sleep, because already you could hear them going off all around the neighborhood, and you knew you had to be a part of it. So I�d wake Allen and the girls, and we�d go running downstairs and open the Times, and cut out the ads that told us which tents were having sales, since Dad wouldn�t buy anything if it wasn�t on sale.
He�d be in the kitchen sipping coffee. Mom would be baking pies, and out on the patio you could hear the ice cream maker churning. I�d go running in and say let�s go let�s go. He�d lower his cup and look at me and say aren�t you forgetting something? Then I�d remember, and he�d follow me to the hall closet, and I�d bring it out on it�s staff, tightly furled, then carry it outside, he following behind saying don�t let it touch the ground now. I�d put it in the bracket that was screwed to the side of the house, and unfurl it, and we�d all stand there looking at it: the blue, red and white. Then we�d go.
In the Pontiac he�d take us down State Line, to where the tents were lined up, and we�d walk through each of them�the smell of canvas, the trampled grass, the smell of dew and gunpowder�buying Black Cats and bottle rockets and cones and Roman candles.
By the time we got home Seth and Keith would already be down at the creek, blowing up toy battle ships and army men, and once with M-80s blowing an upended trash can twenty feet in the air. We�d blow up things with them too until Stephanie or Jean came down and said it was time to go. Then with the tub of ice cream, and the cakes and pies, we�d drive to Lake Quivira, to our cousins� house on the water there, where at water�s edge my cousin Chip would be blowing up toy battleships and army men. Allen and I would blow them up with him.
Later my uncle Ralph would say who wants to ski, and we�d go out with him in the Crisscraft, and Chip would ski expertly, and I wouldn�t. After maybe seven tries though I�d finally get up on the skis, and be scudding along behind the boat, then see Mom on the beach watching, and let go with one hand to wave, losing it and slamming down face forward and getting a mouthful of water. Uncle Ralph would bring the boat puttering back around and say, �Want to try again?�
�Sure.�
�You going to wave this time?�
�No.�
�All right.�
Later we�d sit at the picnic tables on the beach, and eat the barbecued chicken and potato salad and roasted corn, and the men would drink Falstaffs, and the women wine, and we�d show the adults when our paper plates were clean, and Mom would finally take the lid off the ice cream tub, and we�d dish it up and stuff ourselves.
Later we�d be back at it with the Black Cats, blowing them up in strings now, dusk falling, the bottle rockets going off, Roman candles, sparklers and cones. Finally by ten we�d exhaust our supply, and gather on blankets facing the clubhouse across the water, and watch as the display was set off�the huge rockets, shells and stars. I�d lie back and watch until I couldn�t watch anymore, and with my head on Mom�s lap I�d sleep, and hear it all from a distance, and the oohing and aahing, until at eleven Stephanie and Jean and Chip would wake me and say, �Wow, man, you should have seen it. When it was over they sent up a rocket that said THE END.�
�Really?�
�Yeah. In big letters about a hundred feet high.�
�No they didn�t. They can�t do that. Can they? Can they, Mom?�
Very late we�d load the car and say goodbye, and Uncle Ralph would hug me and call me tiger, and Aunt Sally would hug me too, and we�d drive along the shore and through the big gates and past the main line of the Santa Fe, then up into the hills through Shawnee and on toward home, and I wouldn�t know anything until I heard a car door open, and felt Dad sling me over his shoulder, and was carried to bed.
In the morning the neighborhood would be quiet, except for the occasional renegade outburst, but mainly quiet, with the veil of smoke and spent fireworks, and I�d go to Seth�s to swim, and we�d sit around sadly because it would be a whole year before the next one, and we didn�t believe we could wait a year. But we would.
The summers often had that magic. Mom and Dad saw to it that they did. I�ve since tried to do the same for my own children. I hope I�ve done as well.

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