Dad, Chicken and Sparklers

By Susan Sundwall

Few things excited Dad more than an upcoming celebration. He had a great imagination and a sense of fun that permeated the air around us for weeks. Even for lesser celebrations he would enthuse. I learned how to pronounce Punxsutawney from Dad. Groundhog’s Day deserved at least that. He also delighted in reading candy hearts on Valentine’s Day. Any ordinary Saturday could be turned into a celebration if he was in a grilling mood. Christmas loomed large as did Easter but, deep down I think Dad’s favorite celebration was the one that glories in the founding of this country. Dad was all about the Fourth of July.

Sometime early in June we kids – all seven of us – began scouting the fireworks stands. Where we lived they popped up on street corners, in grocery store parking lots and sometimes where there was nothing else but dirt the rest of the year. There wasn’t a lot of money to spare on fireworks but Dad made such a big deal about them we hardly noticed. He could make a small fountain that only lasted for ten seconds seem like Mt. Vesuvius. He also taught us how to write our names in the air with our sparklers. He’d laugh when the flying sparks made us blink and giggle as we held them at arm’s length.

And then there was the food. Dad was a barbeque aficionado of the highest order. Hamburgers and hot dogs were offered up to the grilling gods, but the specialty of the day was his famous lemon chicken. I still can’t replicate it. The charcoal was allowed to work until the briquettes glowed a gentle red. By the time the grill was ready the chicken had been bathing luxuriously in melted butter and fresh lemon juice for an hour or so. A touch of salt and a dash of pepper and onto the grill it went. These crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside gems of meat were snagged up so fast that, if you weren’t standing there, plate in hand, when they came from the fire you might not get any. Sure, the side dishes and watermelon were awesome but, that chicken, wow. I get dewy eyed just thinking about it.

There was one year, though, when our Independence Day celebration faced great peril. Dad had bought the biggest box of fireworks we’d ever seen. A cardboard cradle filled with Roman candles, Piccolo Pete’s, colored fountains, rockets, flower pots and, of course, sparklers. It seemed to take forever for darkness to fall, and we kids were beyond excited when Dad finally allowed that the show could begin. He hauled the box of fireworks out onto the driveway. We elbowed each other jostling for position around it. Then he had to go back into the house for something; probably a water bucket.

Now, here the story gets shaky because it involves guilt and dim recollections from childhood. But someone had the book of matches. The sisters still think it was a brother. And the brothers think the opposite. But whoever it was lit one of the matches and when it burned too low it got dropped – right into the box of fireworks. The ensuing chaos was a sight to behold.

Recalling from a distance of decades just how many of the rockets, fountains and sparklers went off is still being debated. I know for sure we didn’t set any roofs on fire, but it sure lit one under Dad. When he ran out to see what all the screaming was about, each kid ducked behind their cover story. Then, as the cradle of fireworks, our long awaited joy and delight, was doused by the garden hose we all wondered if fireworks were lost to us forever. Because that’s what Dad threatened.

“That’s it! This is the last year for fireworks!”

We shuffled back into the house shooting accusatory glares at each other. Mom hid out in the kitchen and gloom settled in. But as it turned out, on television that night, there was a re-run of Yankee Doodle Dandy, one of Dad’s favorite movies. As the story unfolded, some of Dad’s celebratory nature returned. He loved James Cagney, that song and dance man of old. Soon we were all chiming in with songs like “Give My Regards to Broadway” and “I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy.

”I miss my dad. He truly understood what it meant to celebrate something. You give it your all because the thing you’re celebrating deserves it: An event, a person, a moment in history. Recall it with humility, joy, good food, friends, family and sometimes a sparkler. Which, in case you’re wondering, we were able to have the year following the great peril. Dad recovered just as we knew he would.

About this writer

  • Susan Sundwall

    Susan Sundwall

    Susan Sundwall is a freelance writer, blogger, speaker and author of the Minnie Markwood Mystery Series.

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6 Responses to “Dad, Chicken and Sparklers”

  1. What wonderful memories, Susan! I can see why you miss your Dad. :) If you ever get that chicken recipe right, please let us know!

  2. Linda O'Connell says:

    Susan, your story demonstrates the true makings of a good dad. Your essay resurrected memories for me.

  3. Cindy McCabe says:

    Absolutely loved reading this! Tears and smiles and laughter. I envisioned it all happening as if I were the author!

  4. tim bagger says:

    Ah yes ! remember it well. Have made a lot of mustered bread since then but forgot about lemon butter chicken….not that it wasn’t worth remembering. I miss Dad too, lots of good memories for sure. I think this story has become like many other conspiracy theory’s that grow with time. Bill and I were by the lamp post lighting a sparkler with a punk….you remember those, Dad was sitting in a folding chair over the box of fireworks in the street in front of our house. He would hand out the fireworks to someone one by one to light, a can’t remember who. That’s when it gets a little foggy….just add your ending.

  5. Sharon Wible says:

    I love this story! Americana at its finest!

  6. Pam says:

    The good ol days!!!

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