Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Great American Nail Salon 4th of July

Disney World, Photo by Olivia Knutson

Since we are an entire family are "Pyros" and reside in one the few cities in LA County that allow "Safe and Sane" fireworks; the 4th of July around the Knutson Manor is unrestrained, sticky, dangerous and LOUD.

Every year Mr. K  grills the perennial hot dogs and hamburgers and for dessert he makes homemade, from scratch, peppermint ice cream. Playing the role of Mrs. K, I plan to make the Jello three layer red, white and blue "Jiggler" dessert or the sheet cake with cream cheese frosting, blueberries and strawberries decorated like a flag. I have made this every year since I can remember...the plans... not the actual food items. The actual dessert is probably never going to happen, but it is a my festive holiday ritual and I'm nothing if not traditional. I usually end up opening the chips and putting them in a bowl. We do have standards, you know.

 My job is to sit in the lawn chair out front and yell at the children, as they race past me into the house, to not bother Mr. K as he's working cooking/cursing on the ice cream. He spends hours in the kitchen grumbling to himself about temperatures, ice to salt ratios and running to the store for stuff he forgot. He tries not to hit the dozens of children that run amuck on our cul-de-sac, as he races to Ralphs and then Vons, because Ralphs never has what he needs. This is his festive holiday ritual.

The kids run in and out of the house all day; bringing out toys, games, peppermint candy stolen from Mr. K in the kitchen and Barbies. Barbies seem to reproduce asexually, like starfish, in our home in the bathtub and under the girls' beds. They are always partially clothed, topless or bottomless and have wet hair.  I have no idea why.

The children's job is to complete three tasks to signal the lighting of the fireworks.

  • Task number one is run in and out of the house as many times possible while being screamed at to "GET OUT"! 
  • Number two is as I explained earlier, to drag outside as many toys as possible and get them all sticky and grassy. 
  • The final task usually takes all day, but having the neighborhood children and friends with large families is helpful. They must make sure the floors inside especially the bathroom floors are sufficiently moist with a special holiday spritzer of.....
"Barbie hair"- Water
"Red soda" (a holiday miracle since we stopped serving red soda/punch years ago)
"I half washed my hands and the dirt and soap dripped down from the counters"- Water
And lastly, "little boy I can't aim" Pee Pee.

It takes all day for this cocktail to ferment in to slightly reddish brown trail marking a pathway throughout the house. But then and only then can the real fun begin. The Lighting/ Jumping of the fireworks!

"Guys go back in the house and spill some more soda on the floor, it's not quite sticky enough"


I have a favorite nail salon "Happy Nails" it's located in my local shopping mall. Like most nail salons in the Los Angeles area it is staffed by Vietnamese women.  I have been going there regularly for years. I began getting my pedicures there when I came back from Haiti the first time.

Some of you know, but in case you don't, our youngest daughter is adopted from Haiti. It took much longer than expected, four years in fact and in that time she was diagnosed with a Brain Tumor, which lengthened the adoption process. Needless to say I ended up visiting Haiti a lot, over twenty times. While I hated waiting for our daughter to come home, I found myself falling in love with Haiti. I'm so thankful for the time I was able to spend there. I love the noise, the food, Haitian church worship, the artwork, the bumpy roads, the pigs, the roosters and the people. I love the Haitian people.

One of the few things I didn't enjoy there were the mosquitoes, although they enjoyed me, a little too much. I was always spraying my feet and ankles as they are a know mosquito delicacy. Only the truly caustic stuff worked to keep them away, but it would take a toll on my feet. The spray would always melt my toenail polish and slightly burn the soles of my feet. I would always come home with nasty looking trotters. This is why I began to visit Happy Nails.

I remember the first visit to the salon I explained why my feet were so disgusting, the ladies seem nonplussed and began to chatter away in Vietnamese to one another. Perhaps they were talking about the chubby lady with Haitian Trench Foot, but I doubt it. Anyway, I would just sit back and let them scrub away while I longed for my daughter and Haiti. Going to the nail salon became part of my Haiti ritual. I would return home, cry for a day, have my nails done and then plan for the next visit.

I became a regular at Happy Nails. I even started learning the ladies names in English and Vietnamese. I had to stick to English though, because I'm so Caucasian it makes me butcher name pronunciations other than those used in the Mid-Western United States from 1940-1965. The ladies also got to know my story and that of our daughter in Haiti. I learned that most of the ladies lived in Little Saigon in Orange County, traveled a distance over 30 miles for work, were American citizens and many of them supported their families on their income alone. Finally after four years our daughter came home in late summer 2008 and my visits to the salon stopped.

 Yverline in Haiti July 4th 2008. One month before emigrating


In Ancient Greece on the Island of Crete a fresco was created in the Palace of Knossos. It is of a man leaping over a bull to celebrate an archaic holiday. It's a lot like that here at the Knutson Manor on our country's birthday. Of course this is always done with utmost attention to safety, this is America after all, not Greece!  Did they have "Safe and Sane" bulls? No! I should think not. But we on the other hand DO have "Safe and Sane" fireworks. We also work up to our daring feats against the gods of gunpowder, we don't just leap on in.

First we begin with a few sparklers waving them around discreetly and cautiously. Then someone decides they need to write their name in the air, then another tops that and writes theirs on the sidewalk in burning sparkler soot. After that the kids kind of whip themselves in a frenzy running up and down the street ala "Statue of Liberty" crying out occasionally when a spark lands on bare skin. Soon one of the sassy older kids pretends to smoke the sparklers like they're Cruella de Ville sashaying all about. This causes the parents to feign shock and yell, "Knock it off, you're setting a bad example". They do this while trying to stifle a snort, which is a skill in of itself.

After the sparklers are all gone and one of the smaller kids has a melt down, out come the Snaps. These come in a tiny matchbox packed with sawdust and look like little twists of toilet paper with black powder inside, because,  basically that's what they are. These require no supervision so the adults big kids can set up the REAL fireworks. Typically there are a few minor injuries, mostly from throwing the whole pack into the wind and a piece of sawdust gets into an eye, or one of the bigger children has hoarded a whole handful and thrown them at an unsuspecting barefoot sibling, culminating in loud crackles followed by screaming. Which coincidentally is the signal for the jumping to begin.

With Sparkler


Cruella De Ville


Almost a year after our daughter came home I took her to Happy Nails for a 4th of July "Mommy and Me" pedicure. The ladies were glad to see me and I introduced them to my girl, Yverline. There were quite a few new women working that day who didn't know our story. Some of the veteran employees were filling in the others in Vietnamese. I had a new girl working with me and she asked about the adoption and why my daughter was in a wheelchair. I explained how her adoption took a long time and how she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and that since she had come home to us she has had one surgery and treatment after another, but was doing well. She then excused herself and began going around the salon asking the other ladies something in Vietnamese.

She was collecting money.

She returned and asked if my daughter would like a free manicure with flowers and jewels. I was moved as I know these ladies work so hard for a living. If you have ever been to a nail salon you will know everything is extra, especially jewels and flowers; so to have them pool their tip money to make a little girl's day special was especially poignant. Yverline beamed with her hands and toes freshly painted.

As we were finishing up I causally asked what she was doing to celebrate the 4th. She answered, "We always go to the movies, all of us." As she said this she gestured to all the other women. "Oh, why is that, do you ever go to see the fireworks in the park?,  I said. She then began to explain that as children growing up in Vietnam during the war, that the sound of fireworks gave them flashbacks. To avoid the the noise they would go in a large group to the theater.

I was stunned and my eyes began to fill with tears.

I gave her a huge hug and thanked her and the rest of the women over and over again.  We then headed home.

 Blurry photo of Yverline's hand painted flowers and jewels


After the signal the big kids jump first, their grace and timing are flawless. Then the middle kids who are nearly as elegant are up; usually there is a shy child who through taunting gentle encouragement by older siblings overcome their fears and graduate to firework leaper. The younger ones run and stop about 10 feet away and kick in the direction of the pyrotechnic display in an act of defiance to the firework demons. Then the adults try their luck, which is similar to Ancient Greece; except we are the bulls, sweating, snorting and out of breath; barley clearing the sparks.  Then sadly it's over too soon only the mess remains

...oh and the smell of smoke in our hair
...and the half melted ice cream and leftovers that need to go in the fridge
...and all the sticky grassy Barbies
...and the floors (sigh)


So this year will be no different and no less dysfunctional at the Knutson Manor. But before it all gets going I will stop and think about all the immigrants who made and are making this country great.

My grandparents and great grandparents.

My beautiful daughter.

And the generous women at Happy Nails who live with the pain of the past and the promise of the future .

God Bless You and God Bless America