Independence Day

Independence Day

I'm bundled up against the winter cold:
a heavy coat on top a scratchy shirt and sweater,
my furry cap with leather strap and ear flaps tightened down,
the reindeer scarf pulled snug around my neck and mouth,
and fuzzy mittens too large for tiny hands,
the tops pulled tight over tight coat sleeves.
All this to shut out the cold and keep me well.

Only four, I've badgered my way outside on a freezing day
alone. Mother has prepared me for my first solo foray
onto the long, tree-lined sidewalk that fronts
the small patch of yard in front of our apartment.
Penguin-like, I walk the distance of our entry walk,
feeling my mother's eyes warming my back,
and turn into a foreign land, the sidewalk near the busy street.

Once there, I stand, stiff and startled by the bitter cold,
turning around in my new-found independence
to face my mother still standing still in the open door,
crossed arms cradling her upper self against the winter bite,
and voice a complaint, more like an accusation,
about the surprising cold as if it's her fault somehow.
"Yes," she says, "it's chilly outside."

I stand frozen in attention at these strange words.
Knowing chili only as something I sometimes have for lunch,
my head snaps skyward with thoughts of chili falling from the clouds,
a little boy's reward for braving the cold all by himself,
spoon in hand, reaching for the parmesan,
digging into a heaping, warm portion of his favorite lunch,
finally licking the spicy, blue bowl of the noonday sky.

Later that night, once Father has returned from work,
we sit at the dinner table to eat our evening meal.
On the tablecloth Mother has placed the pink-flower plates,
the promise of a special food on this special day,
my independence day. I tuck the white napkin into the collar of my shirt
and take an eager bite, then pause to accuse her a second time this day:
"Hey, this steak tastes wike wivver!" I hear myself say.

Dan Armstrong