Monday, July 6, 2015

A Small Town Fourth

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July meant hiding in your house all day.

Firecrackers were a popular projectile in the 70’s and my mother was firm about not going far from home but we had our own anticipated traditions.  

Though way too “off the boat” to grill,  we still made sure to have hot dogs and other things American to enjoy until it was time to sit on the stoop in the evening and watch distant (therefore, safe) fireworks over the apartment building across the street. 

We ate ice cream from bowls as the smell of gunpowder hung in the sultry air over 55th Street. The next day the garbage trucks would rumble through the neighborhood  and tired men would sweep up the thousands of fire cracker wrappers that had collected against the curbs.
Here, many miles and years away from childhood, the Fourth of July is more as I imagined it should be: smiling and waving at familiar faces in a local parade, hot dogs on the ball field with home-town politicians making speeches and grills getting fired up in too many backyards to count—the combined aroma of sausage, steaks and burgers forming an aromatic haze over the entire town. 

Though I tend to be more inclined to feel estranged from the mainstream, I get into it on the Fourth whether at my house or yours and proudly scratch my mosquito bites the next day, happily confident that the ketchup stains on my jeans and the sunburn on my nose make me as American as anyone whose ancestors arrived on the Mayflower.
My sons are home for the weekend and, since it’s been a cherished tradition since our very first year in New Fairfield, again they sat—side by side—on the curb, watching their town parade go by. We knew what to expect once the festivities began. 

There would be local teams and scouts, political hopefuls, fancy cars, gleaming fire trucks and my favorite part— the veterans, visibly older but carrying their colors, some proud, some sad, but all determined to be counted on this day. Each Fourth, of course, there are fewer who remember World War II, their numbers thinning as the years fly by.     

One particular gentleman caught my attention as he approached. Straight and handsome in the passenger seat of an open Jeep, this veteran of the Second World War noticed my boys in the summer heat and looked at them very specifically, his head turning towards them as he rode by. Tom and Charlie were unaware but my husband and I both took notice.  

Whatever this fellow may have been  thinking as he looked at my sons, his actions many years ago—whether he served stateside or on his belly in a muddy trench across the ocean, laid the groundwork for their presence on that curb, squinting into the sunshine, enjoying hot coffee and bacon, egg and cheese on a roll.  

What privilege. What plenty. 
A classic--rent it!
I’ve seen enough Jimmy Stewart movies and hummed along to enough Irving Berlin medleys so that this moment was not lost on me. The tears rolled down my face until I was hit by a Tootise Pop thrown into the crowd. Since it was cherry, I gave it to my husband—that’s his favorite flavor. 

So, as they came from other countries to make their home in a new world where independence was eventually declared and later celebrated in countless cities and small towns across America, so we came to our new home here. 

Brooklyn is all hipster-ed out these days. It's likely no one throws firecrackers at kids anymore. They probably toss artisanal pickles at each other for fun. But we, former stoop-sitting city dwellers, sought something better. Whether we found it is not the point. The point is that we sought it—a yard, a parking space, a place to plant a garden, freedom from congestion and lousy air, the kind of place we dreamed of as kids as we hid from firecrackers in Brooklyn. 
Whether we like what’s happening in our country today or not, I challenge you to find a better spot on earth. Since I’m pretty certain that there’s something in the Declaration of Independence  about the inalienable right to be corny, I always exercise that right on the Fourth of July..   

I hope you did, too. 
There's always room for a fart joke.


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