I was born on the fourth of July to a redneck daddy and a mama who never cried for
nothin.’ Mama said she could hear the TV turned up real loud when she was in the hospital
gettin’ ready to have me. They was singin’ somethin’ real pretty while the fireworks was goin’ off
though somethin’ by a rock ‘n roll band would’ve fit the moment better, she said. Mama wanted
to name me somethin’ real cutesy like ‘Lola Stars and Stripes’ but daddy said ‘Forget that crap,
Ellen. Give the child a name with some meanin.’ So she named me Independence.
When I was just a little one, learnin’ to walk and fall down and get up again for the first
time, I remember mama takin’ out the big metal pot and throwin’ every little thing she could find
into it and callin’ it dinner. The pot gurgled and belched as mama ran back and forth between the
stove and ’fridgerator shoutin’ “Harold! I would ‘preciate it if you’d ever help me!” Daddy just
laughed and took out an old record by Louis Armstrong that a had a little song on it called, ‘A
Kiss to Build a Dream On.’ He told me that this very song was the one that he and mama had
danced at in their weddin.’
They had met in a jazz bar in Louisiana what seemed like forever ago. Daddy said he saw
a pretty lady with red lips and a curly black mop of hair sittin’ at the bar, slip fallin’ kinda out the
bottom of her skirt. He asked her how she took her whiskey and she said ‘straight up.’ The band
was playin’ that old Louis Armstrong tune and mama said she loved the way the sound of the
trumpets made her feel. Daddy dipped her and said, ‘Well if we ever get married we’ll play this
song at our weddin.’ At the time mama thought he was just some ’fella tryin’ to get lucky but she
gave him a shot anyway.
“Harold! I mean it!” mama shouted again from the kitchen. She couldn’t help but smile
when she came into the livin’ room and saw me and daddy dancin’ to that song. I was standin’ on
the tops of his shoes and he was twirlin’ me ’round and holdin’ me up by the tips of my fingers.
Mama leaned on the edge of the couch and untied her apron strings. “Dinner’s just ’bout ready,”
she said and walked back into the kitchen.
There would always be a parade outside our front yard on my birthday. Cars with red,
white, and blue ribbons tied to the front would ride by, music blarin’ from the windows, baskets
full of candy in the passenger’s hands, throwin’ out spearmints, peppermints, and butterscotches.
Mama and daddy and me would sit together on a swing we had out front watchin’ all the people
go by. I would squeeze in as best I could in the middle and only get up if it meant runnin’ out
with my plastic sack to collect candy before the other kids got to it. When it was all over with,
we’d go inside, empty out my sack of goodies and count all the pieces I’d collected on Mama
and daddy’s big ’ol bed. Years later, they’d still be findin’ Tootsie Rolls and jawbreakers
underneath the mattress.
A few years later, Mama was pregnant again, this time with my brother David. She was in
labor for thirty-two hours and screamin’ up somethin’ fierce. Daddy said he ran down to the ice
machine ’bout a hundred times only to have Mama scream at him for somethin’ else. Most
women cry out in pain during labor, but daddy said Mama cried out in anger. Finally David
came, and Mama smiled when they placed him in her arms. Mama said the miracle of life was a
beautiful thing but she would never ever, as long as she lived, go through what she had just gone
Things was real good with me, Mama, daddy, and David up until daddy lost his job at up
at the coal mines. Apparently they was downsizin’ and so a bunch of folks was out of jobs. It was
hard times for the people in our town and daddy said Mama wasn’t helpin’ matters by naggin’ on
him to find another job. I started to see them smile less and less and they hardly ever laughed
anymore. Daddy used to just stare off into the blue blaze of the TV screen laid back in his
reclinin’ chair with a bottle of beer in his hand. He’d go and set his empty bottles on the kitchen
counter while Mama gently swirled a dish towel against a dinner plate. At first, Mama would
take these bottles and fill ’em up with water and put some wildflowers growin’ ’round the yard in
’em. Then they got to be so much that she’d just take ’em out in the garage in a big box and set
’em next to the garbage can.
One day I came home from junior high and saw Mama cryin’ with her head in her hands
on the back porch. Her tears were fallin’ like drips out of a faucet onto her green and blue flower
dress. Daddy walked past me but when I looked up in his face, he seemed shamed about
somethin’ and wouldn’t even look me in the eye. He rushed up the stairs, sweat comin’ off his
forehead. I went past the kitchen and opened the slidin’ door out to Mama. She turned back to
see who it was and wiping the tears off her face, she smiled at me and said, “How was school
today Independence?” She grasped her arm, like she was tryin’ to cover somethin’ up but you
can’t hide a bruise the color of an eggplant. That was the first time I’d ever seen her cry.
A week or so later, I ran to Mama and told her I thought I was hemorrhaging. I’d just
learned what that was and feared the worst had come to me. “Did this happen in the bathroom?”
she asked and when I shook my head yes, she smiled and led me to her bedroom, closing the
door behind her.
“... it’s actually a very beautiful thing that you share with someone you fall head over
heels in love with. And just think, without that, there wouldn’t have been an Independence,” she
“I think it should be against the law.”
She brushed my hair out my face, “You’ll find somebody someday that makes you feel
differently about everything. Someone that makes it worth wakin’ up in the mornin’ for everyday.
Somebody that you decide to spend the rest of your life with with no matter what.”
“Is that how you feel about daddy?” I said, lookin’ into her face.
Mama looked up to the ceiling like she was waitin’ for an angel to swoop down and give
her an answer. She took a deep breath and paused. “Yes, that’s exactly how I feel about daddy.”
Once David got old enough he had no problem expressin’ exactly how he felt about
daddy. “I’m movin’ out of this bastard’s house as soon as I turn eighteen,” he said. “And I’m
gonna try to convince Mama to leave too.”
“You can’t do that David!” I shouted. “Mama gave her word to daddy ’till death do they
part. You can’t just tear a family apart because you’re mad at him.”
“We’re not the happy little family you think we are, Independence. Daddy’s a drunk and
mama’s miserable. Would you really wanna feel miserable the rest of your life if you didn’t have
to?” David walked away to his room. He kept his promise and and moved out as soon as he was
eighteen. Mama wouldn’t go with him though. She just cupped his face and said, “Darlin,’ I can’t
leave your father.”
A few more years had passed and I thought I’d found that person that I felt like wakin’ up
for every mornin.’ I introduced Jack to Mama and daddy and let them know that we were
engaged and plannin’ on havin’ a small weddin.’
“That’s wonderful dear!” Mama said huggin’ me. Daddy just sat there quiet and smiled.
On the day of the big event, Daddy pulled me aside while I was gettin’ ready to put on
my veil. “Independence, can I talk to you for a minute?”
He still wouldn’t look me in the face. “I know that we haven’t always had the best
relationship. I didn’t even know you were datin’ anybody. And before I get a chance to hassle
this Jack guy, you up and tell me you’re marryin’ ’em.” He paused. “I just want you to know that
I love your mother very much. I haven’t always made the best choices but there isn’t nothin’ that
I wouldn’t do for your Mama.”
“I know, daddy.” We embraced.
After me and Jack said our “I-do’s” we had a small reception with our immediate family
and friends. When the slow songs started playin,’ daddy led Mama to the dance floor and they
swayed hip to hip and cheek to cheek. For a moment, you could see Mama’s face light up like
she was back in that bar in Louisiana meetin’ daddy for the first time, at least like daddy said
it was. With hand in hand, Mama and daddy disappeared into their own little world where no one
but them existed. If only David could’ve seen. I looked around for him at that very moment and
couldn’t find him. It felt like David was only around the see the bad in Mama and daddy. But
there was so much good. He never saw the good.
Time kept movin’ on like it always did until one day the phone started ringin’ at a time
when the phone don’t ever rang. David told me I had to come home right away. Mama’s heart
gave out in the middle of the night. She was only fourty-two. She’d never get to see David get
married. She’d never live to see grand babies rollin’ around on her lap.
When I pulled into the gravel driveway, everything was somber. Gettin’ out of the car, I
could see daddy through the window, on the couch, swirling a glass of bourbon around in his
hand. David was leanin’ against the kitchen counter, facin’ away from daddy.
I immediately approached the couch. “I’m so sorry daddy.” He smiled up at me numbly. I
turned to David and hugged him. Tears were falling down his face. “As much as I hate to say
this,” David began, “At least Mama’s finally away from that bastard.” I looked up at him with an
anguished disgust. “How dare you.”
I started makin’ my way around the ’ol house that used to be filled with laughter. My
hands caressed the railings on the staircase. My feet remembered every squeak of the stairs. To
the left, I saw Mama and daddy’s room with the big mattress they’d had for years. I went to sit
on the bed wondering if there was still any candy left underneath. There were black and white
pictures on the wall, turnin’ sepia with age and too much exposure to the sun. All of this was
over. Now that Mama was gone, David would never come see daddy. David might even decide
to stop seein’ me because I wanted to see daddy. There would be no more family dinners, no
more family holidays, no more memories. David had finally gotten what he’d wanted.
I went downstairs and saw the ’ol porch swing out front, swayin’ in the wind, a bunch ’o
crumpled leaves blowin’ up around it. In the livin’ room, daddy still sat cupping his liquor, a
golden ring on his left hand, clinkin’ up against it every time he shifted. The record player sat
there just like it had been seventeen or so odd years ago, a collection of music kept in an orange
milk crate off to the side. I picked out that old Armstrong tune and shifted the needle until the
scratchy popping turned into a soulful bass. I walked up to daddy and held out my hand in what
was to be an offering; one more chance to remember things the way they truly were.
Daddy put down his glass and stood up to meet me. We swayed together cheek to cheek,
except this time I didn’t have to stand on his shoes. I felt tears roll down his face and into my
cleavage. My daddy was a good man and he loved my Mama. He made mistakes just like
everyone else but he had thought my Mama had the prettiest emerald eyes. He may have drank a
little more than some people but he gave us all we ever needed. We kept swayin.’
I imagined Mama comin’ in from the kitchen, a wry smile on her face and a hand on her
hip yellin’ at daddy to come help. I thought about being stuffed between two pairs of legs
swingin’ in the breeze, clappin’ my hands when the fire engine came by. I closed my eyes and
saved these moments in my mind so I would never forget that they were real.