I never really appreciated the Fourth of July until I was 11 years old. That’s when my teacher, Mrs, Rosewell, invited me to her home in South Pasadena for a bar-b-que dinner, to meet her two kids, and to watch the Fourth of July fireworks at the Rose Bowl. A big deal if you’re Mexican kid in Boyle Heights, and an even bigger deal if you’re a Mexican zombie!
Mrs. Rosewell was a real sweet lady who replaced Mr. Wilkerson as the sixth grade teacher at Breed Street elementary. In despite of being well off (her husband was a doctor) she had decided to take up teaching in the inner city. She once said to me “I want to help out people who are less fortunate than I.”
Well, she got it in her head that the way to help us poor Mexican kids was to take one of the kids from her sixth grade class home for dinner each Friday night. I guess she wanted us to see what life could be like outside of Boyle Heights. Anyway, all us kids in class drew straws to see in which order we would go. When my day came it coincided with the Fourth of July week-end, so instead of going on a Friday, she said she’d pick me up on Saturday so I could celebrate the Fourth with her family. My mom, of course, was dead set against me going.
“Hay, no, mijo! You know how your drool gets late in the evening. What if they find out about you? No, no lo permite!”
She was right about the drool. Ever since I got my zombie drool, I noticed that the later in the evening it got, the more my drool started to flow. I had to constantly wipe myself. I guess it was kind of disgusting to most people because my mom always took me home whenever we were in public and that started to happen. But I so wanted to go to see Mrs. Rosewell’s house and especially the fireworks.
I finally convinced my mom to let me go just for the dinner part. She’d pick me up after dinner. I’d miss out on the fireworks but at least I wouldn’t have to worry about my drool. Just in case, I took two extra handkerchiefs which I buried in my pant’s pockets.
The Fourth of July arrived and true to her word Mrs. Rosewell picked me up at my house on Echandia Street and we drove to her home in South Pasadena in the fanciest car I had ever ridden in. She called it a Mercedes. We made out way from State Street, past the County/USC General Hospital, up Huntington Drive and on into South Pasadena.
And what it home it was! Three stories tall, with a huge living room and a staircase that went up to the other floors. I was a little afraid of how I’d get along with her two kids. But they turned out to be really nice and friendly. Mary was eight and Jonathan was my age, eleven. First thing Jonathan did was take me to see the giant tree-house his dad had built for him in the huge back yard. We spent the afternoon crawling all around the tree house and on the limbs of the tree. It was so cool!
Before dinner, we all had to sit and listen to Mary play a beautiful piece on the enormous piano they had in the large living room. She called it a Chopin Étude, whatever that was. After that, her father called out from the patio area that dinner was ready and we all went out. I couldn’t believe the table stacked with hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, salads and cokes–more food than we could possibly eat. Wow, what a way to live!
“Hey, Lazaro,” Jonathan said, “you must be really hungry, look you’re drooling!” Heck! I quickly wiped myself. “Yeah, that food makes my mouth water,” I replied.
After dinner, Mrs. Roswell showed me the family’s photos in the dining room. I guess she wanted to make sure that me and her kids appreciated what the Fourth was all about. “The Fourth is not just the birthday of our great nation,” she said, “but also a time to be grateful for all that we have and remember those that have sacrificed for our nation.”
She showed me photos of her father who had died in Viet Nam and photos of her grandfather who had fought in World War Two. She pointed to a framed faded American flag that hung from the wall. “My grandfather brought that back from the European front,” she explained, “It was the flag that he and his army buddies defended during the Battle of the Bulge. It’s been in our family ever since.”
Looking at the photos and the flag made me feel real patriotic and proud to be an American, well, a zombie American anyway.
Jonathan wanted to know if my dad had fought in any wars. I paused and then I pulled out the lie I had used at school. “Yeah,” I replied mustering up as much pride as I could. “My dad is in the Army right now! But he’s involved in secret operations that will keep him away for a long time. I’m real proud of him!” I noticed that Mrs. Rosewell kept looking at me as I told the story. Finally she said, “Lazaro, I hope you get to see your father someday soon.”
Just then the doorbell rang and sure enough it was my mom there to pick me up. My mom and I thanked Mrs. Rosewell and her husband and her kids for having me over. It was already dark when we got into our beat up Honda and my mom could tell I was bummered out because I was going to miss the fireworks.
“Mijo,” she said with a big smile on her face, “ I have a surprise for you!”
“Yeah, what is it?” I asked.
“Vas a ver!” After that she wouldn’t say anything else about the surprise. But instead of going home, we drove to the top of a hill that overlooked a big freeway. Off to the far left I could just make out the USC/ County General Hospital, and also off to the left but closer were the buildings of downtown Los Angeles. Right in front of us, on the other side of the freeway, was a giant hill covered with trees.
“Mijo,” mom said, “That’s Elysian Park across the freeway. And Dodger Stadium is right over the top of that hill. And you know what they’re going to be doing tonight?”
Before I could reply, a glowing light shot into the sky from behind the hill. It rose straight into the sky and then exploded into a dozen different colors. Right after that three rockets took to the air and exploded showering different colors down from the sky. I was going to get to see fireworks after all!
We sat on the hill, just my mom and me, and watched the greatest fireworks show in history. As it got later, sure enough, my drool started to flow. But I wiped it off and just kept watching the fireworks show. All the time I couldn’t help think of how lucky Jonathan was to have been born into a family where your dad built you a tree house and you had bar-b-ques and you could even learn to play the piano. But then I remembered something Mrs Rosewellhad said. “A time to be grateful for all that we have.” I looked at my Mom and gave her a big hug.
“Thanks, mom, this is the best fireworks show ever!”
After that each and every Fourth mom and I would go up to the same hill and watch the Dodgers fireworks show. Those fireworks always made me feel proud to be an American zombie!