The Fourth of July here was hotter than hell. Last year, I sweated my ass off while I drove the mayor in the Mustang for the city parade. This year, I couldn’t even think about getting inside the car.
We went to the parade, which was well attended, although it seemed shorter than usual. Fewer classic cars and one of those that did make it had to give up half way when it overheated and blew its radiator.
The Midget was too hot to want to get candy, although many shirtless little boys kept giving her stuff. This was my first official warning that I need to put her in a convent before she turns 12.
It was a more subdued political scene as well. This was the first summer in a while where the candidates weren’t really stumping or fighting recalls. There were a few GOP candidates vying for a chance to take over for retiring Sen. Herb Kohl and one small Dem float consisting of a pedestrian-looking sedan with Jessica King signs all over it.
As the King vehicle passed, an elderly guy, who must have been about 300 pounds of wobble and was wearing a giant flag shirt, cupped his hands around his mouth and started booing. He didn’t stop until the float had long gone passed and the parade of drag queens… er… overly made up twirler girls came into view.
Later in the parade, the flag guy and a large contingent around him joined in singing this “It’s Amerr’ka” country song as the country station’s float rolled past. People were singing along to that as well as participating in the various pro-USA rumblings that were moving through the crowd, despite the heat.
We are ‘Murr’ka, dammit. We rule.
Throughout this event, I kept hearing Will McAvoy’s monologue in the back of my head.
Later that day, as the temperatures climbed higher into the triple digits, A, Mr. A, my brother-in-law and I climbed into a couple cars and drove out to a small neighboring community. Earlier that week, I’d bought a giant wooden play set from a family out there. The lady’s grandkids were getting too old for it and The Midget had been begging for one of these things. It was a heck of a good bargain, but the downside was we had to disassemble and haul it ourselves. That day was the day the thing had to be gone.
The house was in the older part of town and looked like the kind of place the booing guy from the parade would own. Solidly built and decorated woodland style.
A camouflage-painted boat with an outboard motor rested in the driveway and it was obvious the paint was done by the owner and the trailer was rusty as hell. A giant RV camper hulked next to it, with paint peeling from it and one of the tires looking sadly low.
The owners had that small-town look to them as well: her hair was sensibly short cut with a 10-year-old style to it, his was a bald pate with closely shaven white stubble on the outer rim with a brushy white mustache to match. He wore a sleeveless shirt that tightly hugged his barrel-shaped torso and revealed an ancient, home-done tattoo of her name scrawled on his upper arm.
They greeted us as we pondered the best way to attack this thing before grabbing some plastic outdoor chairs and sitting in the shade to watch was sure to become, as A put it repeatedly, “a hell of a YouTube moment.”
Having never done construction disassembly onsite, we suddenly realized that we weren’t overmatched, but that we had left key things behind. The heat began to kick our asses and we realized we didn’t bring water. As we attempted to dispatch one of our crew to get the water, the lady who owned the play set emerged with four bottles of ice-cold joy. They were the last four she had in the house.
As her husband watched us struggle to break the rusted nuts free, he went into the garage and returned with an 18-volt DeWalt drill with a socket attachment.
Each time we realized we’d lost something or left something behind, they went into the house and got it for us, never needing us to ask.
“I’m sorry,” I said to the lady, as a gratefully guzzled my water. “We must be the most disorganized people you’ve ever met.”
She smiled and said, “Well, how many of these have you built or disassembled? How were you supposed to know?”
We got the majority of the pieces into the truck and A’s Prius. We only had one bungee cord. The man emerged with one we could borrow.
“Thank you so much,” I told the lady as we finished packing the first load. “I can’t tell you how grateful we are.”
“You know,” she said. “When I told my daughter what I sold this for, she was kind of upset, but I told her that it was the right thing to do. Everyone else wanted us to break it down or to deliver it. You were the only one to say you’d do the work. I also told her that I saw your daughter jumping up and down when she saw it and how she said ‘thank you.’ I knew this was going to the right house.”
We drove the 10 miles home and dropped off the pieces in the backyard. After a brief cool-down break, some of us headed back to strap the last couple pieces to the top of the truck.
The last couple pieces went on like a breeze. In five minutes, we were ready to be gone for good. The couple was nowhere to be seen, probably either going somewhere for dinner or retreating to an air-conditioned home.
I took the bungee cord we’d borrowed and tied it around a 12 pack of beer I’d bought, which was festooned in red, white and blue decorations. I placed it on their doorstep and headed home.
America to me was in that moment. Two sets of strangers, brought together from different worlds who saw and appreciated each other’s generosity and good will. We didn’t have to agree on everything, but we could agree on something. We could share a moment without suspicion and be grateful for the decency of people from whom we didn’t have any right to demand it.
Kindness provided without prescribed recompense and graciousness repaid in kind.
We might not be the greatest country in the world, but if you look really close, you can sometimes see some of the greatest people.