Fourth of July is rapidly approaching, but with the all the current crises, it is a challenge for me to feel very patriotic. The more I try to keep up with the latest breaking news, the harder it is not to get bogged down and stressed. To avoid the constant “headline stress disorder” this week, I decided I would focus on something positive instead. Since most celebrations are necessarily curtailed this year, I’ve been thinking about Independence Day celebrations past.
While a little girl, my family lived out in the country on two green, green acres that were pretty much our world. Having grown up on a farm, my mother knew how to drive, but we rarely went anywhere. I guess the idea of loading up a bunch of kids and trying to corral them through an outing was not an appealing prospect. In retrospect, my early childhood may have prepared me for being in quarantine. We didn’t have Amazon to deliver everything to our door, but we did have a milk man and a bread man. And our big outing of the week was a trip to the gigantic Kroger grocery store in LaPorte, nine miles away.
Fourth of July was the highlight of our summer. After breakfast, we would pile into the family station wagon and head into LaPorte for their annual Fourth of July Parade. It was best to arrive early to stake out your place on the sidewalk edge with your blankets. Rumor has it that when I was really little, I hated the noisy jet flyover and all the firetruck and police sirens. My dad would walk me away from the action for a bit, returning for the marching bands and floats with girls in colorful formals throwing out handfuls of candy. I marched in that parade on more than one occasion. Initially as a Sears Stepper, proudly marching down Lincolnway with my group, trying to keep in line and hoping my sweaty little hands didn’t drop my baton. Mrs. Sears was my first-grade teacher and she and her daughter Norma, an Indiana baton-twirling champion, were my baton twirling teachers. A decade later, I marched in that same parade as a member of the Cougar Cadettes, a high school drill team. Sadly, I don’t have any photos of the Cougar Cadettes. Just know, we were hot! Following the parade we would head home, often with Aunt Ruby and Uncle Ike, for a family picnic in the yard. I remember watermelon, hot dogs and all the soda we could drink. Like so many other things, that parade is canceled this summer for the first time in 74 years.
When Mr. Smith and I moved to Kendallville, Indiana with our three young sons we weren’t aware of the fact that each Fourth of July there was a huge firework display down at the lake. We lived on Diamond Street that led you straight to Bixler Lake. Our tradition became an afternoon picnic with friends and family, complete with hot dogs, watermelon and flag cake. After eating, we would grab a blanket, walk down Diamond Street and stake out a place to watch the fireworks. The summer of 1977, our oldest son was on a class trip to France and missed the annual celebration. Over the Fourth of July he was sick, most likely a case of food poisoning, so he stayed at his French hotel that day while the rest of his group went site seeing. His feeling lousy led to a touch of homesickness. As a gift to his mother, Emmet was keeping a journal of his trip. He wrote in his journal that day that he wished he were home; he wanted a hot dog and mom’s famous flag cake! He of course survived and we’ve spent many a Fourth of July together, but not this year.
On this Independence Day when we won’t be celebrating with family or friends, I decided to write a note to Emmet’s sons, telling them the story of their dad’s trip to France and missing Fourth of July with his family and made a request. Though they probably don’t need it, I sent them a photo of a flag cake and the directions, asking them to make one for their dad since I can’t be there. I also asked for a pic of the finished creation.
When scrolling through Facebook and Instagram and seeing friends getting together with family and friends, often sans masks and social distancing, I wonder if I’m being too careful. Then I see articles like Eighteen relatives test positive for coronavirus after surprise birthday party. That strengthens my resolve to do what I can to keep my family safe. In fact, I think it’s my patriotic duty. Mr. Smith and I will pass on the hot dogs this year, but I think we’ll have some delicious, juicy watermelon. And I hope Emmet will be getting flag cake this year, lovingly made by his three amazing sons.
C’est la vie.