Lyla and Bel’s 4th of July
For this Independence Day holiday, I thought I would post one of the scenes from my novel The Best Place in which the main character Lyla Hopewell and her eccentric best friend, Bel, celebrate the holiday.
So on the Fourth of July, Bel comes over for breakfast, and I have to admit she tries really hard. I tell her when she gets there that I’m making scrambled eggs, but she says, “No, that ain’t festive enough for the Fourth of July.” Then she sticks in a video of this silly musical called 1776 that has that bad film look like most of those movies made in the ’60s and ’70s. And it seems like it’s all about Thomas Jefferson’s sex life from what little bit of it I actually pay attention to—and she tells me just to sit there and have my coffee and enjoy myself while she makes pancakes. So I says, “Okay,” to make her happy, and I drink two cups of coffee and pretend to watch half the movie, and I’m just about ready to keel over from hunger when she finally tells me she’s done.
So I drag myself out of the chair and go over to the table and I think, “What the hell did she bake a cake for?” Only, it’s not a cake. It’s a stack of pancakes, and she’s covered the top one in strawberry and blueberry jam and whipping cream so it looks all red, white, and blue, and then she’s got a little American flag on a toothpick attached to it. “I wanted to put in a sparkler,” she says, “but I was afraid it would set off the fire alarm, and I didn’t think we’d use a whole box of them—they don’t sell them separately,” she says.
“It’s pretty, Bel,” I says, “but I don’t like whipping cream, you know.”
“That’s okay. I’ll eat the top one—oh, I forgot the candle I bought to replace the sparkler.”
And then she grabs two giant birthday candles off the cupboard of the numbers “7” and “6.” They’re the same ones she used for my birthday cake last year.
“What’s that for?” I asks.
“It’s America’s birthday today,” she says. “It’s the Spirit of ’76. Don’t you remember that from history class?”
I remember birthday cakes have candles to represent a person’s age, not the year they were born, but I s’pose she couldn’t do the math to figure it out—two hundred and…and…twenty-nine it would be—2005 minus 1776.
“Let’s eat,” I says, but first I have to use the bathroom from drinking all that coffee while I waited.
I go in the bathroom and sit down, and can’t help laughing to myself about the pancakes covered in jam with “76” sticking out of them. That’d be one to take a picture of if my Kodak disc camera hadn’t broken. I haven’t bought a new one—those new digital things are just too expensive as far as I’m concerned. And I don’t have a computer to read them on.
Well, we have a nice breakfast. I eat far more pancakes than I normally would, but Bel says we need to eat extra to keep up our strength for walking to the parade. It’s on Washington Street, just two blocks from Snowberry, but whatever.
After breakfast, I wash up the dishes while she watches the rest of 1776. For the rest of the day, I’ll hear her humming that song about Jefferson playing the violin.
“We can watch Yankee Doodle Dandy tonight, Lyla,” she says.
“Great,” I think, but I just says, “Okay.” Maybe I’ll be lucky and fall asleep by then.
“While we wait for the fireworks,” she says.
I’d forgotten about the fireworks, but I can see them great where they shoot them off over the old ore dock right from my window. It’s one of the few advantages of living high up in a skyscraper—well, at least the closest thing to a skyscraper that Marquette’s got.
When it’s time for the parade, we put on suntan lotion at Bel’s insistence, and we get out our old lady straw hats, and then we take the elevator down to the lobby. We go out into the parking lot to Bel’s car where she’s got a couple fold-up lawn chairs in her trunk. Then we start up the hill to Washington Street, a bit before the crowd, so we can get a spot in the shade, usually in front of the buildings on the south side of the street between Fourth and Fifth.
We find a good shady spot, right next to a little tree and where we can see up Washington Street where the parade will come down. There aren’t any kids nearby to run in the street and grab candy and get on my nerves, so that’s a good sign, though it’s a good half hour before the parade will start down by Shopko, and probably another half hour after that before it’ll get to where we are downtown.
At least we’re in the shade so I don’t have to listen to Bel complaining about the heat, though it’s turning out to be a hot summer, which I can do without. No true Yooper likes hot weather—anything over seventy degrees and I start sweating, and when you spend your life walking back and forth to work and working on your feet all day, it doesn’t take much to get you sweating. I’m sweating just from the walk up the hill to here.
I guess a lot of other people must not like hot weather either considering all the guys walking around with their shirts off and the girls in their skimpy shorts and those tank top things that show off their cleavage—well, I’d like to think it was because they don’t like to sweat, but I know better. Bunch of tramps is what we would have called these girls in my day. And the guys, they look like babies mostly, they’re so young. I admit some of them might be good-looking, but they spoil their looks with all those God-awful tattoos. I can see maybe having one on your arm, but not on your back, chest, and especially on your neck. Just makes me want to puke. And then there are the young teenage boys riding around on their bikes, trying to attract the “chicks,” but mostly just making asses out of themselves—only the tramps they’ll attract are too stupid to know they’re asses. “Male sluts—that’s what they are,” I mutter to myself as a trio of them go by, trying to do wheelies for whatever girls might be in the crowd.
“What?” Bel asks.
“Oh, nothing. I just don’t understand the younger generation,” I says.
“Oh, Lyla, how could you? You never were young yourself.”
“What do you mean by that?” I asks.
“Here, have your Diet Coke before it gets too warm,” she says, pulling two drinks out of her gigantic purse.
I take the pop and crack the cap just enough to let the fizz out so it doesn’t explode. I’m not going to ask her again what she means by my never having been young. I was young until I was about ten, but I was never the age of those teenage boys on their bicycles. I never had the freedom to be young like that. I was milking cows at the orphanage and then taking care of two old ladies, and then taking care of a store, an old man, and a woman with a baby and a drunken husband all my teen years. By the time I turned eighteen, I was on my own again, and had my own apartment, but I was busy working constantly so I’d have enough to pay the rent. I had plenty of guys around my age who would try to hit on me when I walked around town, but I just ignored them, and I never went to the bars or anything—I saw what marriage did to people—my father abandoned my mother, or at least that’s what we all thought, and I’m sure her heartbreak over that contributed to her death, and then Bel married an alcoholic who beat her, not to mention she lost her child. Why would I want to go through that pain? And then there were the rich ladies I cleaned house for, always fussing over their rich husbands who brought home the bacon, and most of them were scared of their husbands too. What the hell did I want with that kind of a life?
Finally, we see the cop cars starting to come down the street—a sign that the parade is about to start.
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