July 4th, 2021 (last part)

That conversation basically got us to Alhambra and Chuy’s house, which was in full celebration mode. The President, if y’all remember, said that maybe we could have little get togethers for the 4th of July if we all got vaccinated. That was bullshit. Maybe it was a small get together at Maya’s (although we went through 30 Hunton Burgers and all of Belen’s bombass potato salad made with chopped chiles), but there were more than 30 people at Chuy’s by the time we got there, including Lupe and Abel and their kids, Mizael and his wife and his two kids, some more extended family, and Lucas, who’d split the holiday between having Eric over to the Andrews’ to use the pool and then by going over to Eric’s parents to see the fireworks.

Hola, hombrecito,” Mizael said, slapping Jacob on the back hard enough to pop the shoulder back out again, “how are you feeling?”

“Fine. Thanks for doing what you did. My Mom had the shoulder xrayed and my pediatrician said it was fine. He even complimented the person who popped it back in again.”

“Good to know I have at least one talent,” Mizael said. “Hey, Cazador!” He shook my hand, and I introduced Keaton around, since he really didn’t know anyone yet. Hands got shaken right and left, which made me feel back to normal in a very good way. No one had on a mask, either…with the exception of Jacob and Matteo. I wasn’t sure what to do about that. I couldn’t very well tell them to take their masks off, but I decided that, if they did take them off, I wouldn’t tell them to put them back on.

The boys actually knew a lot of people there, since they’d met the other kids the day of the baseball game, and Jacob was kind of a celebrity for having dislocated his shoulder and then gotten back in the game once Mizael fixed it for him. There wasn’t room to play soccer or anything, but one of the moms had the kids playing a Spanish bingo kind of game that I think is called lotería. The boys fell in playing and Matteo even won a stuffed animal on a chain you could put on your backpack. I know Matteo can have pretty much anything he wants from his parents, but he seemed dang pleased with having won something. It’d be really cool if he got a backpack to hang it on and to go to school with come next month.

The fireworks show wasn’t a one-man deal, which I didn’t know last year when I was watching from the front yard with just Keaton, Lucas and Eric. Abel helps Chuy out to such an extent that it really ought to be called Chuy’s and Abel’s fireworks and not just Chuy’s. It also turned out that they shoot the fireworks off from an alleyway behind the house, so there was always a distance between the audience and the explosives, something which I had a feeling Maya would appreciate.

That’s not to say that we weren’t super close to the fireworks, because we were. Even closer than we were last year in front of the house: the fireworks were pretty much directly overhead. The boys thought that was totally awesome, and sat pretty much transfixed for the whole show. That’s except when their attention got distracted by fireworks going off down the street and elsewhere in the neighborhood. It was kinda like a war zone with all the noise, but I knew what we were in for. I didn’t tell Keaton, since he’d have told me I was being gayass, but I had some cotton in my pocket, just in case the boys were bothered by all the explosions. Keaton needn’t have worried: the boys were just fine sitting in the middle of it all.

I didn’t get the feeling that the other fireworks in the neighborhood were set off with any rhyme or reason, Chuy, on the other hand, definitely had a plan to his show, which went on for about fifteen minutes. There were some legal fireworks mixed in at ground level, too, mostly in between the aerial bursts. It really was a whole show, of which Chuy was justifiably proud. It was cool last year; it was obviously even cooler this year, what with not having to worry about COVID and masks and social distancing.

In addition to the fireworks, there was a red, white and blue piñata with candy and toys for the kids (one of Mizael’s kids did the honors with the baseball bat.) And, of course, there was food. Even if we missed dinner, Aracely wasn’t about to let us leave without feeding us. So she brought us out plates of awesome tamales, including some sweet ones with just a corn filling.

“I didn’t know that tamales were traditional for the 4th of July,” I told Aracely as I dug in.

“They aren’t usually,” she said, “but they’re our tradition for the holiday. I didn’t bother last year – everything was so confuse – but this year I wasn’t going to let myself get away without making them.”

“This is our country,” Chuy said, coming up behind his wife, “and we want to celebrate it. We’re very grateful to be here. America’s been good to my whole family, and I’m proud to say that I’m American. Unlike…”

“I know,” I said, although I wasn’t sure whether he meant illegal immigrants (the whole family came over legally…and they do kinda look down on illegals) or the kind of people that spent the 4th talking about how much they hate this country and what all is wrong with it. Nobody did anything patriotic at the Sharpmans – there weren’t even any decorations – but Chuy backed up his fireworks with decorations and flags. He even got a little mad when he saw that a flag was on the ground. He’s proud to be from Mexico, too (you should hear him talk about Canelo Alvarez)…but he really appreciates the United States of America.

And I hope I don’t have to apologize to y’all about it, but that’s how I think it’s supposed to be. This is a great country we have…and where else would you want to live? It may be pretty cool to live in Canada…but they don’t have freedom of speech there the way we do here…let alone the right to bear arms. (Ok, you may not want to own a gun, but you should still be glad that you have the right to get one if you want one.) I don’t care what some people think these days or what kind of garbage they’re teaching in school: this really is the greatest country on Earth. I really get pissed off when people start bashing the US, and not just because my dad’s a veteran. I’m proud to call myself a good American and a good Christian and I like it when they play the National Anthem before ballgames. We’re the longest running experiment in democracy in human history, and I reckon we’ve done it pretty dang well. Is the country perfect? Of course not. What country is? But that’s no excuse to disrespect the country and the flag. And, well…if you can’t stand for the flag and show your respect our freedoms, maybe you don’t deserve to enjoy them.

It was well past the boys’ bedtime by the time we were ready to leave, but Monday was a holiday, and we had no big plans for the day. I did keep Maya up-to-date on our arrival time, but she said we didn’t need to hurry. The fact is she’s usually a pretty cool mom, even with her overprotectiveness. I don’t think we finished our 3 leches cake and were in the truck before 11:00.

Before he started up the truck, Keaton looked for something on his phone, and hooked it up to the truck’s speakers.

“I know you’ve been wanting to hear this all day,” he said.

It turned out to be Alan Jackson singing “America the Beautiful.” It wasn’t the same as singing it with family and friends before we dug into Block Burgers, but at least I did get to hear what Dad calls our “second National Anthem” – and I like it that Alan sang the last verse with the line about “alabaster cities” that I always used to wonder about when I was a little kid.

“Do y’all know the song?,” I turned around and asked the boys as I punched “repeat” on Keaton’s phone.

“I’ve heard it before,” Matteo said. “Who’s that singing?”

“Alan Jackson,” Keaton said. “Famous country singer. Bubba and I grew up listening to country.”

“It’s a nice song,” said Jacob, who was already half asleep. It had been an exciting day for him in a lot of ways. “I think Dr. Peterson tried to teach it to us.”

Good for Dr. Peterson, I thought. I know he’s very into the Constitution and thinks a lot of our system of government, even if he probably doesn’t agree with the current administration. I think he’s a libertarian like Maya and Robert, but I don’t think he teaches politics so much as government…which is cool. I’m careful about talking politics when the boys are around (ok, y’all know me…I don’t talk a lot about politics anyway), but I don’t see why I can’t teach them at least a little bit about patriotism.

Besides, patriotism shouldn’t have anything to do with politics. We’re all Americans and we all should love this country. Even if you disagree with a lot of things that happen in the country, the fact is that no other country lets you disagree with it as much as the United States. Those people who are so busy telling us what’s wrong with the country should remember that…and think about what happens to you in China if you talk shit about the government.

We got the boys home, and they were both half-dead to the world.

“C’mon guys,” I said, “everybody out. Say thank you for Keaton to the ride.”

“Thanks, Keaton,” said Jacob, putting out his hand for Keaton to shake. I was secretly pleased at that.

“Good handshake, tough guy,” Keaton said, “but you gotta look me in the eye when you do it. Try again.”

So he did.

“Good job,” he said.

Matteo wasn’t going to be left out, so he shook Keaton’s hand as well, being very careful to make eye contact.

“That’s good, scout,” he said.

I was last to shake hands and wish Keaton a good night.

“Thanks. It was a great 4th of July. Even if I had to agree to be on TV to be a part of it. I just hope I don’t come off looking as gayass as you do every week.”

With that, he got in the truck and drove off. I hoped he remembered how to get out of the gate from the inside.

I took the boys into the house and upstairs. They’re old enough to know how to brush their own teeth and get into bed, and, besides, I could see that Maya and Robert were still up since there was light coming from under their bedroom doors. After saying good night to the boys in the hallway and giving them each a hug (we started doing that at some point during the bubble), I went to Maya’s and Robert’s door and knocked gently.

“Come in?”

“It’s just me,” I said. “I hope I’m not disturbing you.” They were both up and watching something on the TV. “I just wanted you to know the boys are home safe. They’re getting themselves ready for bed.”

“Did you have a nice time?,” Maya asked. Even in sweats with no makeup she looked great…and I could still smell a hint of her perfume.

“Awesome. Thanks for letting the boys go. I think they appreciated the outing, and they though the fireworks were amazing. Chuy puts on a great show.”

“Thank you for making dinner. Your burgers were a big hit.”

“They were delicious too,” said Robert. “And we got some great footage for the show.”

“What about the altercation between Jacob and Asher? Are we gonna put that on TV?,” I asked.

“Sylvia and David have to decide. We’re going to want to persuade them, although it doesn’t exactly make Asher look good.”

“They’ll probably say no,” Maya said. “They’re like that. Did you get any good shots of the fireworks for the show?”

“Yeah,” I said. I guess I forgot to mention that I was in charge of coming back with some footage of the fireworks and the party at Chuy’s on my phone camera. (I guess I never told y’all that they got me a new iPhone specifically so I could get video of things when I was out with the boys. Joyce was a little pissed off that Maya was buying me iPhones, but it’s not my girlfriend’s job to keep me provided with a fancy phone every time a new one comes out.) “I’ll download it tomorrow. Good night.”

“Good night, Hunter. Thanks for everything.”

I was halfway to the door when I decided maybe it would be a good time to ask about teaching the boys something about boxing and self-defense. So I mentioned it. I could tell Maya was waffling a little, but Robert made the decision.

“That’s a great idea,” he said. “You should tell Sandy on Tuesday want kind of equipment you need. There’s plenty of room in the gym for it. It might do Matteo some good if he knew how to stand up for himself. Although I was proud of how Jacob took care of that brat Asher this afternoon.”

“Okay,” Maya said, “if you men think it’d be a good idea.”

“Thanks,” I said, before saying good night again and closing the bedroom’s double door behind me.

I was pretty dang tired by the time I got back to the pool house, but I also had a bunch of ideas bouncing around in my head…like my thoughts about July 4th. So I had a quick beer before I put on boxers and got into bed. The beer was a good idea: I was asleep seconds after my head hit the pillow.

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