Looks a little like Hugh Laurie, doesn’t he? This is George Kelley Leister, my maternal grandfather, all lit up like Levy’s, as we say in Louisville when you’re dressed in your best. (Levy Brothers was a store, now The Old Spaghetti Factory, bedecked with strings of white lights.)
ANYWAY, he was born on the 4th of July. Everybody always asked him if it wasn’t awesome, to have everybody shooting off fireworks on his birthday, and he had to admit IT WAS NOT. Other people got to be the focus of attention on their birthdays, but his birthday was always overshadowed by celebrating the Fourth. His birthday cake was always decorated red, white, and blue, and his presents were often wrapped in fireworks paper or flag paper.
He was as patriotic as the next guy born in 1910 with the drumbeats of two World Wars echoing in his ears, but — my birthday, my birthday, it’s my birthday, you know?
One time he loved it a lot. When he was 66, he and Grandma (Donna, this is his second wife, Ruby, not your Aunt Lily) moved to Corning, New York when my mother took a transfer up there. I went along to have a look when they went to scope things out in 1976 (Bicentennial!). The morning of July 4th, we were in the motel dining room waiting for our pancakes and it came up before the waitress that it was Grandpa’s birthday. A few minutes later, the waitress came out with a stack of pancakes with a lit sparkler stuck in it! “We gotta July 4th birthday!” The whole room broke into applause. Grandpa, a shy, self-deprecating man, was embarrassed, but it was a pleased embarrassment.
And here he is with our #4 daughter, writer-archeologist Sara Marian Deurell, of whom he was proud and of whom he would be even more proud now, to see what a fine human she’s grown up to be.
Polaroid pictures were great in the moment, but they don’t stand the test of time very well. He’s doing something I remember his doing with me when I was a wee li’l squirt: reading. It was all the stories he read and all the stories he made up (like the one about the little squirrel who didn’t look both ways before trying to cross the street and paid the ultimate price for his inattention) that planted the seeds of storytelling in me.
Thanks, GK. Miss you always, but love all the memories you left to keep me company.
A WRITING PROMPT FOR YOU: Write a character who was born on a date everybody remembers for some major event other than the character’s birthday.