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I have always loved 4th of July.

The Fireworks! Oooooh. Aaaaah.

The food.

Family time.

When I was a little girl it meant I got to stay up late while eating my weight in hotdogs and watermelon. Drinking as many Dr. Pepper’s from a glass bottle that I could stomach, and trying not to catch myself or anyone else on fire with sparklers. Also, secretly hoping I got to light one of THE BIG ONES once dusk rolled around.

We ALWAYS went to my Aunt June’s and Uncle Steve’s house in Sacramento, California, and it was one hot spot in July. But as a kid I hardly noticed, because it meant time spent with my cousins and Aunts and Uncles. For my family the trip was an hour-long and in those days we did not have air conditioning in the car. We usually piled into my grandpa and grandma‘s car who lived down the street, because it DID have air conditioning. These were my mom’s parents and as a kid my sister and I had access to these amazing people anytime we wanted. We were so lucky!

As I got older I brought friends with me, who became part of the family. See, I come from a sweet, loving, and welcoming bunch. So much of who I am and who we all are is because of the kind of people my grandparents were. I learned anyone can be a friend {even if they don’t look like you, have tattoos, long hair, or choose to not wear shoes}, and live by this motto today.

The summer I was 17 I had a job in another city babysitting for a family that had two kids {a boy and a girl}. The dad was in Kentucky {I think he was in the military}, the mom and kids were in Stockton, California. I was there to take care of the kids while the mom worked. I had a great time. It was like being a big sister and getting paid at the same time.

I acquired our ‘old’ family car as my own and named it Bandit, like from Smokey and the Bandit, when I was 16. It was a gold Dodge Colt, 4 gear manual transmission with 4 doors and an AM radio. For me that car was FREEDOM, and with another job I had so much money.

**Note** I had a job since I was 14 working on the weekends at a Bed and Breakfast, so this money was in addition to what I already was earning. Basically it meant I could buy CD’s, fill up my tank {in those days gas was under a dollar a gallon!} and go to lunch off campus, and not have to ask my parents for money all the time. My parents still got me my school clothes and that kind of stuff.

So I drove an hour one way to this second job where I would take the kids swimming {work on my tan}, go to the movies {the mom paid}, cook for them {eat junk food}, and live at their house with them for four or five days in a row.

FREEDOM!

The Fourth of July was coming up and I was making plans to go to my Aunt and Uncle’s house. My friend Sara was going to come with me so she came with me to my job for a few days {I can’t believe I was able to do this}, and then we were going to drive from Stockton to Sacramento.

We lived in Sutter Creek and the three cities were a triangle on the map, so it made sense for her to come with me…no backtracking.

Anyway, this is the Fourth of July that I will never forget.

I learned over a phone call that my mom’s sweet daddy had passed away earlier that morning. A man who taught me about gardening, painting, composting, fishing, relaxing, how to eat corn on the cob one row at a time, to save your cornbread for last so you could put in your milk, and the importance of family.

When I was little I was sick a lot of the time, which meant many missed days of school. My grandpa would come to our house to bring me lunch. Sometimes he would sit with me while I ate, others he would leave what my grandma had made for me in the fridge. Usually I got a peanut better and grape jelly sandwich on wonder bread. If I wasn’t very sick I might even have a treat in the freezer of vanilla ice cream with fresh strawberries nested inside two Styrofoam cups secured with a rubber band.

The details are fuzzy, but that day when I was 17, the phone conversation continued as my mom explained how my grandpa fell, and stopped breathing earlier that morning. The call ended knowing we would see each other for our traditional family get together. My parents would drive my grandparents car and bring my grandma. My mom said it would be best to be with family right now.

We are also a God-fearing bunch and I knew my sweet grandpa had gone to heaven. I was in shock. I wasn’t ready for this, and was so mad this happened on my favorite day.

Later that evening while we were getting ready to eat one of my Uncle’s was saying grace and said “…today a great man went to be with you in heaven. He was a husband, friend, father, and grandfather. Today we celebrate his life and every year we will get together and celebrate it again…amen”.

As I have gotten older and moved farther away from family I still remember those summer evenings where my Uncle Steve would break out his guitar and fill the air with a lovely melody. Food cooked on a grill, corn on the cob from Sloughhouse, Martha’s Baked Beans, and watermelon were staples at these gatherings, and even though I am in Austin and not able to be there I know they still are.

So this year as we celebrate Fourth of July I remember all the freedom I have been given and celebrate my grandpa Harold Craig. He was a wonderful example of unconditional love.

I love you and miss you.

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