The Boy Who Became the 4th of July

James Marshall was born a fox. Red-haired and a little wild in the eyes. His Momma’s clever fox, handsome fox. His Pop’s too. His big sister’s best little kit.

Yelp. Yelp. Yelp.

Later, James Marshall became a firefly, gazing out the window at the magical language of his kin. For though he was bright enough to light the Ozarks and for Grandpa Nicolaus to read by, his wings were too small to fly.

Blink. Blink. Blink.

One day James Marshall lost his wings and became a boy. A giddy big brother of a boy, curious and ever so fast to smile. But his body hurt and would not let him out of bed. Not to jump with his Momma, swing with his Pops, romp with his fox family, or flit among the fireflies.

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Momma and Pops took him to the doctor. A long ride in the car. There he became the boy under the lights, warm hands and cold hands. Big voices and small voices. Machines & medicine. Talking fast and slow. So many words.

No. No. No.

Always his Momma. To her, he was still her handsome fox. Always his Pops, who helped him touch the stars. And brother and sister and Grandpa Nicolaus, too.

Love. Love. Love.

Sadly, nothing could make him well. Not the doctors, not the medicines and machines. Not his Momma, nor his Pops. Not the foxes, nor the fireflies. He could not yelp. He could not blink.

Sad. Sad. Sad.

He got so tired, and his wee body could do no more. And then the sky exploded, and James Marshall, the fox, the firefly, the boy, became the 4th of July.

Boom. Boom. Boom.


James Marshall was my great uncle, born October 22, 1918. He died on the 4th of July 1921 of a giant cell sarcoma of the right kidney.

Since learning about him in my ancestral research, we’ve spent much time together, both on this plane and in dreamtime. This story is as much his as it is mine. I know he likes it, and I hope you do, too.