Saturday, July 4, 2015

The way I remember the 4th of July in the midwest.

Always on the 4th of July there was a picnic, even if the clouds were building for a summer rain, and sometimes we did two picnics over the weekend. 

The Fontes met at Wing Park in Elgin, Illinois or Trout Park and the men gathered to drink beer and poker while we played on the hills or at the playground.  If we were at Wing Park, my dad and uncles would throw horseshoes before and after a meal of fried chicken (my mom's fried in bacon grease), lasagna and other pastas (my aunts'), cookies and cakes and a tossed in olive oil and red vinegar salad of tomatoes, iceberg lettuce and cucumbers. 

The Dice family would gather at my grandparents' farm.  Grandmother made potato salad, spiced with mustard and fresh rolls for sandwiches (usually ham that she also baked).  There might be pies (cherry or rhubarb my mom would provide), deviled eggs (from relatives driving over from Indiana), and the piece de resistance would be hand cranked ice cream, guided by the strong arms of my granddad.

At the farm, we could have sparklers as the sun set and would write our names in the dark and catch fireflies in a jar--usually released as we would drive out of the gravel road from their house and head to Wing Park for the fireworks.

There, we would sit on worn cotton sheets and try to catch the burning pieces of fireworks' papers as they drifted down from the sky.  Tired on the way home (we often walked to avoid the parking) and cranky from the end of the day thrills and maybe fussy from mosquito bites, Mom would sponge bath me and my sister before we put on our seersucker pajamas and slipped into bed with a book.

As I got older, my 4th of July days started with marching in the summer band parade down the streets of Elgin and/or playing at the band concert that night at the Wing Park Bandshell.  By that time, spending fireworks with my boyfriend Steve became the thing to do at night and now I wonder how my parents felt as I pushed away from their rituals.  I never skipped the family picnic, though, and that's the part I tried to continue as I married and Mark and I became parents.

So here I am today, definitely an empty nester with my only baby bird working each holiday as a chef, cooking for others so that they can enjoy bbq without the hassle and hurry of doing it themselves.  It's not the same, but we have to adjust as we age and let go of the details of the holiday, holding on to the memories and to the essence of the meaning of "pursuit of happiness."  Which is not about hot dogs, beer, even music and patriotic words. Rather it is about the original/Greek (how ironic with Greece in such an economic turmoil today) meaning of "happiness"--not individualistic pursuit of pleasure, but of the shared experience of community.

On that note, we (my hubby and I) are off to a community lunch at our occasional Methodist Church (a holdover and tribute to my maternal Methodist upbringing), followed by "big Methodist music" of the popular, patriotic type.  I will make time to see our son and give him a heartfelt hug as he wraps up his long day in the kitchen and be grateful for the memories of his youth...and mine.