Fireworks and food, sparklers and bottle rockets, patriotism and the red, white and blue… festivities ring out all over the country for days before Independence Day, and several days after. It’s one of my favorite holidays and equally beloved by my son. He, along with nearly all children, loves the excitement that comes from watching the fireworks surge into the air and light up the night sky.
Last Fourth of July, Raff and I set off to buy fireworks. We passed Chick-fil-A on the way, and he asked if we could stop for lunch. I obliged and made a right turn toward the restaurant. As I drove towards the entrance, Raff noticed a man perched on a rock holding a sign. He was bearded and scruffy, his clothes wrinkled and dirty, and his shoes a mere fragment of the footwear they had once been.
“Mom, there’s my friend that needs food,” Raff said, pointing.
“Don’t point,” I hissed. “That’s very rude. Don’t worry, we’ll get him something.”
As we frequent Chick-fil-A, Raff had become accustomed to picking up lunch for the man on the rock or anyone else he felt may be in need of food or drink.
After we received our order, I turned my car toward the direction of the man on the rock. He gave us a slight smile as we slowed down to pull up next to his perch. Raff ruffled through the red and white bags containing our lunch, selected the one that was purchased for his friend and hopped out of my car. He immediately began an animated conversation with the man and I watched with pride as my son conversed with the older gentlemen. Raff drew a grin and a chuckle, then a gravelly response from the man. The two shook hands and Raff bid him a good day and climbed back into the vehicle. Once he was buckled in, he turned to me with a serious face.
“Mom, what does it mean to be homeless?” Raff asked.
“Well, it means that someone doesn’t have a house to live in,” I explained.
“So, if they don’t have a house to live in, where do they sleep at night?”
“Well, sometimes they might sleep in their car, if they have one, or maybe a tent, if they have one. But some homeless people don’t have anything at all. That’s why it’s so important to help people anytime we see an opportunity. You never know what their situation may be.”
“I like helping people,” Raff said.
“I know you do, sweetie. And I love that about you. You have a very generous heart,” I told him.
“I’m gonna look for people to help everywhere I go,” he said excitedly.
I just smiled and continued driving.
A few moments later, we arrived at the fireworks stand. Raff jumped out of the car and made a beeline for the red, white and blue striped tent. Upon entering, a friendly man greeted us and handed us both a red plastic shopping basket.
In one corner, there were piles of fireworks designated for children neatly stacked in rows on a long white table. I steered Raff in that direction. Raff searched through his options, selected a few items and placed them in his shopping basket. I noticed a display of Roman candles on the adjacent table.
“I’m going to step right over here to this table, Raff. Stay right here, and finish picking out what you want, OK?” I said.
Raff briefly glanced my way.
“OK,” he said.
I walked to the other display table. After a few moments, I made my selections and glanced back in Raff’s direction. No Raff. My eyes flickered over the faces in the tent. No Raff. My heart began to race and panic crept over me.
I spun around, my heart still thumping wildly in my throat.
There Raff stood, his red shopping basket still in his hands, standing next to a heavily bearded man with dread locks. The man’s clothes were rumpled and dirty, and his big toes protruded awkwardly from both of his shoes.
“Raff!” I exclaimed. “I told you to stay at this table. I was very worried when I couldn’t find you!”
“Mom, this is Harry. He’s going to come to our house,” Raff stated with a wide grin. He was completely unaware that he nearly caused me to have heart failure.
Then his words resounded in my mind, and my eyes widened.
“Hi, Harry,” I said, faking a serene smile. “Um, Raff… Can I talk to you over here for a minute?”
I grabbed his forearm and half dragged him to an empty corner.
“Raff! You cant invite people to our house without checking with me first! And certainly not strangers, that can be very dangerous,” I said, trying to maintain my composure.
“Mom,” Raff said calmly, “he’s a nice guy! He’s homeless and he needs a bath. And you said we have to help people in any way we can.”
My heart swelled and my frown softened.
“Hey kid,” the man named Harry said. “My ride’s here. But thanks for inviting me to your house. Maybe some other time.” he said with a wink.
Raff looked puzzled. “But don’t you need a home and food and a bath?”
“What?” Harry asked. “You just asked if I wanted to come over for dinner.” Harry looked at me, sheepishly.
“But, you’re homeless.” Raff said.
“Homeless?” Harry repeated. “No way, man. I live with my mom. Why did you think I was homeless?”
Raff looked the man up and down.
“Because you look dirty and you smell weird,” Raff said.
My head rolled towards the tent’s ceiling in exasperation. But Harry just chuckled and said, “Nope, I’m just an old hippie who doesn’t like baths.” He stuck out his hand, and Raff reluctantly shook it. With a quick grin and a nod in my direction, Harry turned and walked towards a 90s model Toyota Corolla, climbed in, and the car sped away.
I looked down at my son, mentally preparing a speech about strangers, when a look of concern flashed across his face. “Can we go home now?” He asked. “I want to wash my hands.”
I stifled a small grin, and nudged him towards the cash register. We paid for our fireworks, got back into the car, and started the drive home.
“Mom?” Raff asked. “What’s a ‘hippie?”