“Whee-BOOM!” was the magic onomatopoeia that helped my 2-year-old son cope with the sound of 4th of July fireworks that startled and scared him. Once I put a name to the sound, the fun of imitating the “whee-booms” replaced panic and crying. Thirty-four years later I still catch myself making that sound when I hear the whistle and explosion of fireworks and it makes me smile to recall the days of being a young mother experiencing this American holiday with my first-born.

For a large part of my life, celebrating Independence Day meant attending my Uncle Bud’s yearly picnic at his rural home about 40 miles outside of Chicago. Uncle Bud was my mother’s beloved twin brother and we always attended his picnics, whether we wanted to or not. For the most part I was happy to attend, especially in the early years. It was great to see family and friends, many of whom I probably wouldn’t see again until the next year. We would arrive to the aroma of ribs slathered with barbecue sauce sizzling on the huge grill that my uncle had, created from a steel drum cut in half and hinged to make a lid. It was a grill large enough to easily feed a crowd with little waiting time. Tables would be set up outside jam-packed with serving bowls of side dishes that all the moms brought to supplement the barbecued ribs, burgers and hot dogs. Many years of Uncle Bud’s 4th of July picnics have left me with a jumble of memories that cover a time span from my early teens to the era when I would arrive with my own side dish and young children in tow. Memories of my WWII veteran uncles arriving with American flags adhered to massive Buicks and Caddy’s, delicious food, volley ball games, the clink of horseshoes hitting steel stakes, music blaring, bottle rockets and bonfires. There is even a memory of a fight that included teenage boys, my mother and another adult woman who came as a guest. I still experience a twinge of anxiety recalling my fear as I watched people who had spent their day drinking alcohol, lighting bottle rockets in the field at nightfall. More enjoyable memories involve the yearly nighttime bonfires, when the Cocktail Generation would move their party into my uncle’s large country kitchen and the hippies and us younger teens would sit talking and laughing around the fire, remaining there as long as the mosquitos would allow.

My youngest son, Eoin, came along well past the years of “Uncle Bud’s picnic”. By then my older children had their own 4th of July plans and then eventually left for new homes in LA and Portland, Oregon. So our celebrations became small family barbecues followed by a drive to the nearest fireworks display. The only constant through the years being “whee-booms” and mosquitos.

Today I am living in a West Clare bog where the 4th of July is just another day. The only US flag around is on my teenage son’s bedroom wall and my adult son and daughter are celebrating the day on another West Coast, half a world away. There will be no fireworks here today but we’ll mark the US holiday with burgers grilled on a disposable barbecue grill purchased at SuperValu. This 4th of July is one of nostalgia. Nostalgia for celebrations of the past, for people far away and for those no longer with us. And there is also nostalgia for an America that feels very distant these days, both geographically and philosophically. Always my country, if no longer my home.


My son’s Irish bedroom decor.