I realized yesterday that, until about four years ago, I was with my parents on July 4 every year-- I internalized the idea that it was a family day, to be celebrated together, and I dutifully brought my family (husband and children) with me to the old homestead for the obligatory celebration.
My family always made a very, very big deal about celebrating the Fourth of July. My dad's business was always closed for the day, a large American flag was proudly flown, and we had a family barbecue, normally following a trip to the beach. The wearing of red, white and blue were mandatory. Following dinner, there were (illegal) fireworks to be enjoyed (my father and brother entertained our suburban neighborhood with amateur, and, I'm sure, incredibly dangerous, displays). The sulphuric smell of a sparkler still awakens all these memories, very sweet.
Here is what we would have at our barbecue, without fail: hot dogs, steaks, which my dad had marinated in garlicky pickle juice, potatoes wrapped in foil and roasted on the grill, corn on the cob roasted on the grill, potato chips, soda for the kids (I had a preference for cherry soda in those days) and beer for the grownups. There may have been something green, but as I wasn't eating green in those days, I don't remember it.
Oddly, I used to collect recipes for special occasions when I was a young girl-- my mother had no use for such frivolities, and relied on a very predictable rotation of meats and poultry and the occasional fabulous Italian meal. But I picked up every Ladies' Home Journal and Redbook and Family Circle I could, and dutifully clipped the recipes to save for later. In my kitchen, a few feet from where I sit typing this, there is a box filled with recipes, including several specifically for July 4, all of which I collected before the age of 13 or 14: Brown Sugar Grilled Pork Chops, Plum Turnovers, American Flag Cake, German Potato Salad. Mind you, I have never once prepared any of these recipes. But I remember the enthusiasm with which I squirreled them away... the idea that I could create a wonderful feast for a celebration took hold early. I remember, too, a certain amount of anxiety associated with those delicious- sounding recipes, with their too-perfectly styled photographs: I knew even then that it was hopeless, that no one could throw a party that picture-perfect. I knew it was an illusion.
In recent years, other Independence Day customs have arisen. I rarely attempt to wear the colors of the flag these days. Today I am particularly distressed about the state of our democracy. I normally do something fairly low-key on the grill (tomorrow: chicken, which is marinating right now in lemon and garlic; potatoes [I add garlic to these too, as well as rosemary], zucchini, and grilled pineapple with sherbet, and Lambic Framboise to drink). But one unalterable new tradition is the Independence Day Film. Sometimes we get very literal; other times we get very campy. Sometimes we go to see what is being released that day, since summer blockbusters are usually available in abundance, like local strawberries. Tomorrow we are going in a somber direction. In honor of the day, we will begin viewing the amazing Ken Burns documentary, The Civil War. However, we will enjoy only an hour or two of this, and that late in the evening after the local fireworks have been shot off.
Despite my worries about our nation... and they are many... I feel hopeful on Independence Day. Don't let anyone fool you: the United States are an experiment. How successful an experiment remains to be seen. Once I read in a book about a group of nuns who set out to found a new monastery. A writer asked them how long before they would have a sense as to whether their new monastery was a success. One nun asnwered, "Oh about 50 years." The writer sputtered, "But you'll be dead by then!" "Oh, yes," the nun replied, perfectly sanguine. "The only things worth giving your life to are things that are bigger than you are."
Here's to the US, bigger than we are, battered and beaten by the idiots who are currently at the helm. Let's see if the experiment succeeds. It's such a nice idea; it would be great if we could pull it off.