Published 7:17 pm Tuesday, July 5, 2011

It is almost 10 p.m. on the evening of Monday, July 4. My family has gathered at Compass Lake as they always do on this particular holiday. Given the Fourth falls on Monday this year, they all had to head back home today.

Mary Lou and I are sitting on the dock enjoying the fourth night of fireworks since we have been here. There is no better fireworks show in the world than Compass Lake where neighbors and friends try to outdo each other shooting fireworks off their dock.

The sounds come in stereo from every direction, followed by the starbursts of red, white and blue reflecting on the water. Tonight there is an extra treat as nature adds its own fireworks display in the distance, with heat lightning streaking all across the sky.

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It isn’t the most dramatic storm of the weekend. That would have been on Saturday when a monstrous thunderstorm dropped over 3 inches of rain on the lake. For more than 40 minutes we couldn’t see the other side of the lake, although the image of the wind picking up our tents and rolling them over and over was very clear from the windows.

Our own fireworks display occurred on Sunday evening to take advantage of the greatest number of family present. For the first time I gave my lead in lightning the fireworks over to my longtime assistant, my nephew, Stephen.

Other than fireworks, the most important part of this family holiday is the food. Another low country boil fed the masses on Saturday. There was enough shrimp to eat for the next three days.

The traditional babyback ribs followed on Sunday evening. Every year you think the ribs are the best ever, but these were so tender as to make eating them on the bone a difficult task.

The homemade ice cream was a challenge when our old freezer gave out on us. The dirt dobbers had made a nest in the motor so it wasn’t a surprise when it wouldn’t churn. Our neighbor saved the day by loaning us his ice cream freezer that may have been older than ours.

We visited the horses nearby at least a dozen times, taking advantage of the golf cart that gave everyone a break from the water.

The grandchildren finally love to ride in the boat, so it was used over and over. A four generation boat cruise at dusk is always the highlight of any day at the lake.

As much as we enjoy celebrating the Fourth with parts of our family, I was reminded more than ever this year that everyone is not here. Of my six nephews and nieces, only Stephen was at the lake.

Addison and Bailey are on a mission trip. Davis is at a camp learning to improve his already considerable leadership skills. Joe is preparing to get married later in the year so his hands are certainly full.

It was the youngest of them all that had my thoughts on my nieces and nephews this year. Thomas Ponder won the Future Masters Golf Tournament in Dothan this year. In the world of junior golf, this is a major achievement. What makes it more amazing is that Thomas won the 10 and under division.

At the age of 10, Thomas has already topped the best score I ever had with his winning score of 71. Not bad for anyone, but incredible for a 10 year old.

I guess I really should not be that surprised about Thomas since he earned his black belt in karate at the age of 8. I would say that he takes after his Uncle Dan, but those of you who have ever had the misfortune of playing golf with me would know that just isn’t so.

In any case, I am proud of Thomas and all my nieces and nephews. I know some better than others, but they are all great and make their families beam with pride.

ML and I finished the afternoon today by watching the last episode of the mini-series, John Adams. He and his longtime friend and enemy, Thomas Jefferson, were the last two surviving signers of the Declaration of Independence. They died on the same day, July 4th, exactly 50 years to the day after the signing of that famous document.

It was a great program to watch, reminding us of the challenges and turmoil surrounding the birth of this nation. Adams thought that people would not remember the reasons for our cry for independence, but days like today make me think that many of us do.

As the fireworks fade out and I sink lower in the hammock, I give thanks for this great country we live in and for my family, immediate and extended. They are both a cause for celebration.

Dan Ponder can be reached at dan@donalsonvillenews.com