I moved away from my hometown more than twenty years ago. I live in a leafy suburb that has nothing but houses and a store scattered here and there. As I write this on July 4, I am sitting inside my house, listening to the air conditioner kick in. Independence Day is just another day. It could be a generic Monday, or a Wednesday.
In celebration of the holiday my suburb features live orchestral music on July 10. July 10. Why not July 23? Or August 17? They do things differently here in Minnesota. They also outlaw fireworks, so only the outlaws set them off, generally at two o'clock in the morning outside my window. I'm still perplexed by the irrational fear of fountains and Roman candles -- but then, Minnesotans seem to be afraid of a lot of things. Maybe it's because my big brother sold fireworks from a home-constructed stand for years that pyrotechnics are simply everyday life for me. My little brother and his friends blew all their savings buying bottle rockets and spinners they'd nail to the wall; then beg Mom and Dad for "just five dollars" so they could buy more. Sure, one might have to dodge a wayward rocket shot from a pop bottle occasionally, but so what? No fires ever ensued. Life isn't necessarily risk-free.
The Fourth of July was always my favorite holiday back home. My town did it up right. It didn't matter if the holiday fell in the middle of the week and I'd need to get up for work the next day. Everyday life stopped for the Fourth. The highlight was the parade, a procession that went for miles and miles -- my high school marching band, lines of farm implements, floats upon floats populated with waving riders. Clowns on stilts throwing handfuls of candy to the little kids. Polka bands. Military vets. THE FLAG, which every parade-goer reverently stood for. And every single cheesy display one's imagination could conjure. In fact, the cheesier the better. My family would laugh and mingle, my sister and I parked on the curb, within reaching distance of our kids so they wouldn't wander too close to the action. Snapping action photos with actual cameras. Getting sweat-drenched and sunburned, and not caring. Then, once we were certain the parade was over, peering down the long street to ensure no one else was actually coming, gathering up our kids and our blankets and our lawn chairs and trudging in the hot sun back to our cars wedged in a supermarket parking lot (By the way, business owners were completely, patriotically on board with people claiming their parking spots. They, too, were off attending the parade.)
We'd head back to Mom and Dad's and plop down on tufted chairs in their COOL living room, a couple of the guys stretching out on the carpet. Mom would be in the kitchen putting the finishing touches on her potato salad and arranging her relish tray. Once everyone arrived back at the meeting spot, we'd eat and eat and eat. And drink tons of iced tea.
As the sun set, we'd gather on the front steps and await my brothers' home-crafted fireworks show. They'd take turns running out to the middle of the street, touching a punk to the latest pyrotechnic. And we'd alternately marvel and continue our gossip session, careful to ensure our kids didn't wander into the dark street.
Then we'd finally head home and flop into bed, red-burned and exhausted.
THAT was the Fourth of July.
As I glance out my window today, my street is deserted. Everyone is either at the mall or still sleeping. Hard to know. I don't know any of my neighbors. We're not real cohesive here. "Minnesota Nice" is a nice catchphrase that native Minnesotans utter to obviate their true, insular nature.
But I have my memories of REAL Independence Days.
Memories will suffice.
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