To me, the Fourth of July was always the quintessential holiday for families and kids. I have so many childhood memories of the Fourth … from watching the local parade on Park Street to marching in the parade alongside my mom as she rode on a float—dressed as the Statue of Liberty (how a British national got the job of Lady Liberty was one of those childhood mysteries which persists through the present day). Then there was the celebration of summer food: the barbeque, the ice cream, and the fruit salad. My mom used to carve a watermelon into a huge green-striped basket in which shiny grapes, sharp-edged apple chunks, browning banana rounds, bright pineapple, and multicolored melon balls would nestle.
My dad would reverently unfold the Stars and Stripes and place it in the flag bracket on the front porch. (The porch thermometer would be in the high eighties or even the nineties.) I remember the pleasant goose bumps I would get when singing the rousing tunes of “America the Beautiful,” “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” and of course, “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Most of all, I remember a lot of noise: the bands playing, the fireworks, the cheering and shouting, the lawnmowers, the swing set creaking … all the sounds of summer crowded into one day.
Since those days of sun suits and popsicles, July 4th has receded somewhat in importance as a holiday for me. Once the parade lost its magical aura of excitement for us kids, the family stopped going; for a while, we would make a point to go and watch the fireworks over the Bay, but eventually, when my sister and I moved away from home, that tradition also came to a close. Since college, the Fourth of July has seemed like a holiday that other families celebrate. Now that I live on the opposite coast from my immediate relations, I always feel a little bit lost during these “family holidays.” However, now that I’m married and thinking about kids of my own in the future, I am getting interested in rekindling some of those old traditions and starting new ones of our own.
My husband is an immigrant to the U.S., which means that he has no childhood Fourth of July memories to bring to the table. He’s spent his entire nine years in the U.S. in the New York City area, so the image of bands parading down tree-lined streets in small-town America with cheering families arranged on their spacious lawns is a totally foreign concept to him. Of course, he is familiar with sparklers and fireworks, but since those have been banned for sale to individuals in most urban parts of the country, having our own private fireworks party isn’t an option. No one we know in the NYC area has a wide front lawn to host what I think of as the traditional July 4th barbeque. So what to do?
I am developing a plan for this year’s holiday. I travel so much during the summer for my bike racing job, that the few weeks I’m home with my husband are especially precious. I find myself wanting nothing so much as quiet, romantic evenings at home with him. The thought of bumping elbows with revelers in Times Square or Central Park is less than appealing. So, this July 4th is going to be a special holiday for the two of us.
The fireworks over the Hudson River are always spectacular, and people crowd the NYC parks for a good view. But since we’re after a romantic, intimate setting, why not watch them from our side of the river in New Jersey? There’s a park not five minutes’ walk from our apartment with a view of the river; it will be a perfect spot to snuggle up, eat a leisurely picnic, and watch the show.
I have been eyeing the huge watermelons for sale at the grocery store and considering whether I can attempt to wield a carving knife with even a fraction of the flair my mother had. I realize that, healthy appetites though we certainly have, an entire watermelon plus other fruit is going to be a bit much for a picnic à deux. Have you seen those mini seedless watermelons at the store? One of those would be perfect for a festive two-person fruit salad. I’ll carve it into a simple basket shape, scoop out the crisp, red flesh, and then fill the “basket” with other kinds of chopped fruit along with the melon balls. As for the rest of the picnic food, I’ll think of something easy and quintessentially American. Our apartment doesn’t allow BBQing, and neither of us are big meat eaters, but no matter. What’s more July Fourth-ish than tuna salad sandwiches, a nice bean salad, and maybe even some deviled eggs? Yum.
And while we munch our picnic food, admire the fireworks across the river and the fireflies across the clearing, we can reflect on the most important part of the holiday. Though my husband brings no July 4th memories to help us start our new traditions, his choice to move to the U.S. reminds me of all that this country offers its citizens and residents. Despite the many perceived and actual failings of our government and culture on many fronts, the United States of America is still a land of opportunity for many. So three cheers for the Fourth of July, for the U.S.A, and for new romantic holiday traditions!