Celebrating the Dream
Mr. and Mrs. Veitch were patriots. They lived the American Dream- worked hard and bought some land to put white picket fence. They built a house on this land in the late 1960s when their youngest son, Jon, was five.
Mrs. Veitch loved to recall the first Fourth of July her family spent there. The foundation had been laid although there were no walls. Mr. Veitch set up a picnic table while Mrs. Veitch made potato salad, hamburger patties and a peach cobbler that would achieve mythical status on a makeshift table made of a two by four resting on two concrete blocks. The Veitch, then, invited their friends- friends from Riverside’s Poly High School where Mrs. Veitch went, friends from the salon that she owned and friends Mr. Veitch had collected along the way with his quick wit and movie star smile. Mrs. Veitch would laugh when she’d get to the part when it was time to eat and Jon, whom she called Jonny, was no where to be found. Chuck (Mr. Veitch’s real name) found Jonny lining their driveway with tiki faces he’d carved in dirt clods caused by construction.
“This was when we knew Jonny was something special,” she’d smile.
I came to know Jon was something special four decades later. He may have felt similar because he invited me to celebrate the Fourth of July with his family the first year we fell in love.
“You’re in for something special,” he winked.
The Fourth of July in the Veitch House began weeks prior. Mrs. Veitch would make lists while Mr. Veitch completed the tasks listed on them.
“Jesus, Barbara (Mrs. Veitch’s real name), what are we putting on this year? The Academy freakin’ Awards?”
“Oh, you stop it, Chuck,” she’d scold before returning to chopping this or slicing that in the kitchen where she was queen.
He’d retreat in the living room and pour himself a drink.
“Anyone care to join me?” he’d yell from the chair Mrs. Veitch preferred he sit in. I offered to join him, but before I did, I asked Mrs. Veitch if she needed any help with the impending festivities. Mrs. Veitch held a knife under the faucet, thinking. A smile spread across her face.
“Actually there is…”
She wiped the knife off with a towel and placing it in the washing rack.
“You can Chuck sit.”
I looked at her with question.
“You can get that old man out of my hair for the day of the Fourth and bring him back in time for the party, which is the only thing he’s good for anyway.”
Jon heard what she said and chuckled.
“You want me to take Chuck out during the day of the Fourth?” I clarified.
“Yes, take him to breakfast, drive him around...to the sea, the mountains or both, I do not care, then take him for a margarita at that Mexican Restaurant he likes with the waitress he lusts after…fine by me…it’s better than having him here asking me why I am doing this or I am doing that.”
I wanted Mrs. Veitch to like me, so I agreed.
“Can you be here by seven?” she said.
“In the morning?” I asked.
“Yes, maybe even 6:30,” she replied.
Jon laughed until he cried.
I did what I was asked. I drove up Mr. and Veitch’s winding driveway, now lined with the fuchsias and magentas blossoms Mrs. Veitch tended to with meticulous care. Mr. Veitch sat at a table sitting outside their front door. A coffee cup in front of him, next to him- his cane and a plastic sack. Mrs. Veitch walked out the front door, carrying the coffee pot. Her hair in pin curls.
“Oh good,” she said, “Chuck, grab your day sack and get out of here.”
“Jesus, Barbara, let me at least finish my coffee.”
She went inside, returning with a portable coffee mug.
“Vamanos,” she said as I held Mr. Veitch’s elbow as he leaned on his cane to stand.
“So, where to?” I asked Mr. Veitch as we drove down the driveway.
“Let’s go to Flabob’s Airport for pancakes,” he smiled as he rolled down the window to feel the sun tanning his skin.
Flabob Airport is small airport, located behind Mount Rubidoux in Riverside. It caters to airplane enthusiasts. Some even keep a hangar on the property. Its terminal includes a diner straight out of the 1950s Western- knotty pine rafters, waitresses with bouffant hair.
“Hey Chuck,” said one of these waitresses as we walked through the door.
Chuck flashed his white teeth, brighter from his tan skin, “Well, hey there, honey, my wife kicked me out of the house today, so I’m gonna need some pancakes.”
The waitress smiled back, motioning us to the best booth in the house, right by the windows facing the runway, antique planes landing and flying into the sky.
“Did I ever tell you bout how I met Barb?” Mr. Veitch asked me after our coffee was poured.
I nodded my head no. His eyes flashed of youth as he turned to look out the window.
“I came to Riverside from Los Angeles to visit some family and I got invited to some party. When I walked in, I saw a woman standing above everyone with silver hair, holding a martini in one hand and a cigarette in another and the tightest orange pants I’d ever seen. I’ve been chasing that fast woman ever since.
The waitress broke into laughter eavesdropping as she sits down Mr. Veitch’s pancakes.
“Mrs. Veitch sure has given you a run for your money, huh?” she asked.
“She sure has,” Mr. Veitch winked, holding up his coffee cup for more.
Mr. Veitch leaned on me as we walked to the car after breakfast.
“Where to next?” I asked.
“Oh hell, let’s just drive to the mountains. That’ll kill time,” he said.
I turned my car onto the freeway and headed for a place that reminded me of my home in Colorado, a town called Idywild nestled in the manzanita bushes and pine trees on Tahquitz Peak. We found the town in celebration as we pulled over the final hill. Red, white and blue banners welcoming tourists for the holiday. People of all ages wandering the main street lined with shops selling trinkets to remember their trip by. We heard a band when we got out of the car.
“Let go there,” Mr. Veitch said when he heard the guitar.
The sound came from a patio outside the biggest restaurant in town. Men in black shirts on stage playing guitar, singing about American women. Mr. Veitch and I found a table and ordered an ice tea. Mr. Veitch surveyed the crowd before leaning toward me to be heard.
“Why would anyone live anywhere else than Southern California?”
He leaned back in his chair, content, watching biker women shimmy to classic rock tunes.
Mr. Veitch and I drove down the mountain as the sun toward the west, so did we.
“Mrs. Veitch said I have to take you to get a margarita at the Mexican Restaurant,” I told him as the wind through our hair. Mr. Veitch sat up a bit straighter as if he’d just been told it was Christmas a few months early.
Mariachi music greeted us at the restaurant’s entrance before the hostess did. Mr. Veitch swiveled on his cane to the time of the trumpet as if to say- Chuck’s here, so let’s party. The hostess sat us at a table with a red umbrella on the back patio. A woman approached us who looked like Raquel Welch. Her skin as smooth as the flan; her hair wild as a stallion’s.
“Mamacita,” I heard Mr. Veitch say under his breath.
“Margarita,” is what I said to the woman when she looked at us with questioning eyes. She turned with antelope grace to get our request. Mr. Veitch’s eyes watched every swish, every sway.
“That one’s got an ass on her like…”
“Mr. Veitch,” I said as if embarrassed. Mr. Veitch grabbed a chip and dipped it in salsa.
“Excuse my French,” he said, not taking his eyes off his little Rosalita.
He grabbed her hand to kiss it after she sat the schooner of juice and tequila in front of him. She blushed.
“Women” he watching her walked away, “I love them.”
“You’re just like your son,” I said.
Mr. Veitch smiled with pride, “Yep, taught that kid every moves that he knows.”
Mr. Veitch left an extra large tip when his drink was done. He looked at the sun that was now hitting the western horizon.
“Think we should go home?” he asked.
I nodded as I handed him his cane, so he could stand.
Many cars lined the driveway when Mr. Veitch and I returned. Children from diapers to braces jumped off fences and ran through brambly bushes Mrs. Veitch had not gotten to tending. I parked next to Jon’s car, then helped Mr. Veitch out of the passenger seat.
Mrs. Veitch walked out of the front door as we walked up the steps. Her hair cascading in effortless curls; her eyelashes long; her nails red. She wore an apron with I’m The Boss Around Here written across it.
“How’d he do?” she asked.
“He did fine,” I said.
“Good, that’s better than he’s done in a long time. I nearly dumped him Fontana last Fourth of July.”
Mr. Veitch kissed his wife on the cheek.
She kissed him back, “Hello, my mess.”
He smiled and asked, “Can I help you with anything?”
“You can do what you do best, Chuck, go talk to your friends.”
He looked relieved as Jon came out of the front door, wearing an apron as well and covered in paint. He walked up to me and gave me a kiss.
“You do okay with my dad, Little Little?” he asked.
I told him I did. He smiled.
“He’s a lot like me, yes?” “Yes, he is,” I winked.
We all walked to the back of the house. The picnic table Mr. Veitch set out four decades earlier sat on an overlook lined with stones Mr. Veitch had laid after the walls of the house were built. The makeshift table made of two by fours and concrete blocks replaced with dozens of foldout tables covered in tablecloths of red, white and blue. The friends the Veitch’s had invited so long ago now brought their children and their grandchildren. One friend Jon introduced to me said,
“We’ve been coming here since I was five and I just retired.”
I looked at Jon who held my hand.
“I told you it was something.”
I kissed him and said, “It certainly is.”
“C’mon, it’s time for mom’s peach cobbler and fireworks.”
I followed him to the line of people waiting for Mrs. Veitch to place a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the peaches that steamed from the cobbler she’d made from scratch.
Jon and I sat on a blanket on the lawn Mr. Veitch had cut the day before at his wife’s request. We held hands; we watched colors fly; we dreamed.
This day seems so far away from where I am today as are those dreams, sitting on a desert floor. I am content, but cannot help but think these people who lit my life are now like the sand under my feet – dust. They are dead. This holiday, at least for this year, I guess, is for memories instead of festivities and sometimes that’s okay.