Cold Fried Chicken and Chiggers

I was always afraid I'd get chiggers on the Fourth of July.

I didn't know what they were, where they came from, or what they looked like. And, I still don't. But, every Fourth my mother warned me that they'd burrow under my skin if I didn't stay on the blanket to watch the fireworks.

My brother always cried. I hated him for it. He cried every single year and my mother would take him someplace, so she missed the fireworks. I'd feel lonely watching them on the blanket alone, and sorry for her, and mad at my brother for crying. He wasn't afraid of the chiggers; he hated the noise.

At least he didn't throw up. Which he did at dinner for what now seems like a year. He didn't like any food except Pep cereal and ice cream. My mother let him eat it for breakfast and lunch, but at dinner he got real food, no Pep. I'd mail him a case of it today if I could find one.

Anyway, every Fourth, he'd cry. And miss all the fireworks. Every one else sat on the Iowa side of the riverbank to watch the fireworks being set off on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River. Maybe it was the South Dakota side. I never did figure out where one started and the other ended. All three states meet somewhere out there.

We celebrated the same way every year. Which is probably why I remember it. My childhood friend Suzy remembers every thing that ever happened to her, I swear. My memories of Sioux City and childhood are admittedly limited. Maybe she remembers everything because she still lives in the same house she grew up in and sees a lot of the same people we knew five decades ago. Maybe she just has a better memory.

But every year the same families--Whichers, Dahls, Brickleys, Brecklins, Heatons, and the Ferners--would get together for the day. The parents played golf while the kids swam, vied for prizes in games, and played on the playground.

At night there was a chicken dinner. Cold fried chicken. The only day of the year my father would eat fried chicken, let alone cold fried chicken.

And then, the fireworks. They always ended with a zillion firecrackers hooked together to form a flag, which went up in red, white and blue smoke.

Pretty simple stuff. Swimming, picnics and fireworks. Just a good old-fashioned holiday. A great day to be with family and friends. The kind of a Fourth of July I still like. The Westfield fireworks, along with the Wyben parade and the Hampton Ponds parade coming up on Wednesday, are as close as you can get.

This year my mother won't be around to warn me of chiggers, or any other dangers. I guess my brother, now in his 50s, no longer cries during fireworks, although he recently admitted he still hates the noise.

I've asked my friend Suzy to go out to the river bank to watch the fireworks for me. If they're still having them.

And, I just couldn't help myself, I warned her to look out for the chiggers.

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