4th of July


sean dietrich w dogBy Sean Dietrich

On my kitchen counter is a pound cake, sitting on a pedestal, beneath a glass dome.

Pound cake is the food of summer. It can make or break the entire season. A summer without pound cake is like church without singing. Or Monet without color. Or Andy without Barney.

When I was a younger man, my soon-to-be wife and I went through mandatory marriage counseling at our church. It was miserable. The minister was so uptight that he could have carried a corn cob without using his hands.

The pastor asked me what my “love language” was.

“My what?” I said.

“Your love language,” he said. “How do you receive love?”

“Come again?”

“Food,” my wife interjected. “Sean’s love language is pound cake, and so is mine. We speak Food.”

That preacher looked at us like we had june bugs crawling out our noses. And I never forgot that.

Because my wife was right. We speak Food. Food has always helped me through life. I use fried chicken to fend off existential doubt. Pimento cheese gives me courage. And pound cake restoreth my soul.

And yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of High Cholesterol, I will fear no egg yolks, for Thou art with me.

Speaking of food, right now I smell steaks cooking on a grill. My neighbor, Tom, is having a holiday cookout and he is speaking my “love language” fluently.

It’s Fourth-of-July week and every house on our street has a driveway full of cars. There are American flags flying on every post, mailbox, and car antenna.

People linger on porches, holding bottles and aluminum cans, eating ridiculous amounts of goodies and laughing a lot.

The sun is low. I hear firecrackers in the distance. They sound like bottle rockets.
If you are, or you have ever been a boy, you know a bottle rocket simply by its sound. Fireworks are expressly male items. If you don’t believe me, visit YouTube and type in “bottle rocket tricks.”

What you’ll find are millions of videos featuring death defying stunts by young people who—how do I put this?—are only knitting with one needle.

What you will not find among these videos are females. Girls are too smart to mess with gunpowder.

When I was a boy, we fooled with bottle rockets all summer long. We would travel to the county line and spend big money on bundles of barely legal bottle rockets. We would waste the entire summer developing strange and exotic ways to harm each other with explosives.
I hear a mother down the street, yelling at her children. “Be careful!” she shouts. “Don’t blow yourselves up! Supper’s almost ready!”

Next, I hear the sound of bicycle gears clicking, and skateboards. Is that the sound of a big wheel? The kids kick up a cloud of dust behind their tires.

“You’re not faster than me!” shouts one child.

“Yes I am!”

“No you’re not!”

“Yes huh!”

“Nuh uh!”

“Yes huh!”

“Nuh uh!”

They pedal hard until dusk. And just when you don’t think they can pedal any faster, their mother calls them for supper.

No matter how many light years away from home children are, the mere mention of food makes them fly homeward faster than Chuck Yeager drinking Mountain Dew.

Soon, I hear the sound of ceramic casserole dishes on their porch. And the happy chatter of voices. And the sounds of forks and spoons.

This is a cross-section of old-fashioned America to me. Casseroles, kids, and laughter.
A radio accompanies their supper. The sound of the Temptations, singing “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”

And I remember when my mother once danced with me on the porch to this very song. She spun me around, and showed me how to move my feet. We really cut a rug. You don’t get over memories like that.

On a day like today, I am left wondering how it happened. How did I get middle-aged? Where did my life go? Once, I used to be a boy, fearless, fast, with a hollow leg. How did I develop love handles, old-man toenails, and a bad back?

Sometimes I miss childhood afternoons, lying in the grass beneath a sprinkler. I miss fishing with earthworms. I miss warm tomatoes, stolen from my mother’s garden. I miss playing with explosives.

I am interrupted.

My wife walks onto our porch. She is carrying a pedestal with a golden cake beneath a glass dome. She cuts two slices and serves them with fresh strawberries, and pours iced tea into jelly jars.

We don’t speak to each other because we’re too busy eating. We only smile with our mouths full, then touch the rims of our jelly jars together.

It’s a holiday, and there’s no need to say much today. After all, I know what she’s saying, and she knows what my heart is saying back.

She’s saying, “The pound cake came out good, didn’t it?”

And I’m saying, “I love you so much it hurts.”

I know all this because, like my wife told the man, we speak Food.

Happy Fourth of July.