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Changing of the guard

Fireworks are part of the 4th of July celebrations around this county.  In our own family, we have been shooting fireworks off the dock for a long time.  This year marks the 25th year that my youngest daughter, Elizabeth, has been my assistant in igniting the fuses for the display.  

Today, at lunch, Elizabeth wore her new T-shirt emblazoned with the words, “Fireworks Director”.  The subtitle read “If I run, you run”.  Truer words were never spoken.  If the person lighting the rockets is headed in the opposite direction, you should follow their lead.

July 4th was on Tuesday this year.  That timing is complicated for those only getting that one off from work.   At Compass Lake this year, where generations of our family have gathered to celebrate America’s birth for over a century, the fireworks are being launched off various docks every night from Friday until Tuesday.  

The nighttime boat parade has made its way back into the holiday lineup on this spring-fed lake in Florida.  It was delightful Saturday evening with all those on the decorated boats in the parade and those cheering from the docks enjoying the event.  

There are many other highlights for this family gathering.  Food is always a big part of this holiday.  Steaks, pizza, ribs, homemade ice cream, our daughter Catherine’s pound cake, our granddaughter Laura’s Key Lime Pie.  Shrimp, cheese grits, bacon, Conecuh sausage, biscuits with Mayhaw jelly, and pancakes.  Lots of it cooked on the new Fire disc, the newest edition to the grilling collection.

 New highlights of the gathering include a basketball goal on the edge of the dock.  If you want to wear out your grandchildren, let them play basketball while treading water that is ten feet deep.   

Kneeboards are another new addition, and the older grandchildren had a blast.  Of course, they are all accomplished on riding a tube, bouncing around and holding on while competing with their cousins.  A grandparent’s job is to pull the grandkids on the water until they are worn out.  Mission accomplished almost every day.   

This holiday was a bit challenging due to the record heat.  I am not sure how many oscillating fans we had blowing hot air around, but hot is still hot.  The pyrotechnics were great, but they were overshadowed by the spectacular moon that rose over the lake just as we finished the fireworks.  Not often in this hectic world we live in do you get the chance to gather with your family and collectively gaze at the moon.   

We missed having the matriarch of our family down this year.  She has not missed very many of the July 4th celebrations at Compass Lake in her 91 years.  Jobie will be joining us later this Summer when the heat is more accommodating and the lake a bit more peaceful.

There is so much to celebrate during this particular holiday with our family.  We can still all sit down at the same table, though just barely.  Everyone can swim this year, though the youngest still prefers to build sandcastles on the beach under the cypress trees.  

Watching our grandchildren play hard for hours on end is a joy for Mary Lou and myself.  It reminds me of my own youth when my siblings and I would play with our various cousins until we were exhausted.

We give thanks for our family and our time together.  We also give thanks for this amazing country we live in.  America may have its faults, but it remains the greatest country on earth.  Life as our family knows it would not be possible in so many other nations around the world.  I am proud to be an American and thankful to share this great country’s birthday with all my family.

It is a bit reassuring to see the seventh generation on this lake slowly drift down the stairs this morning.  They are sore and tired.  Having so much fun is hard work.  The sunrise has just finished its glorious show and the bacon will be cooking soon.

Even as the guard begins to change, in many ways things are still the same.  I hope this time together is celebrated for many generations yet to come.   Happy Birthday, America.  


Dan Ponder can be reached at

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