By Cheri Rae
Is there a better day in all of America than the Fourth of July? It’s a day for joyful celebration of freedom, independence and happiness. Even the food is fun, and meant to be eaten by hand: cakes decorated with strawberries and blueberries to look like flags, watermelon, corn on the cob, and barbecued anything on a bun. It may be the one day of the year when political affiliations don’t even matter: Democratic or Republican, Green or who-knows-what, we are all patriotic Americans, and stars and stripes belong to all of us, on this one wonderful day.
In my own family of origin, Independence Day holds additional importance. My Sicilian immigrant grandparents were married in Boston on that date in 1926. Even though they resided in the geographic heart of the American Revolution, their wedding date had nothing to do with patriotism. Back then, they had only a vague idea about the reason for the holiday in their adopted country, before they became naturalized citizens. They actually picked the date because it was America’s Sesquicentennial celebration; their guests had extra time off from their factory jobs for dancing and merry-making; the fireworks and patriotic activities were just an added bonus.
On their 40th anniversary in 1966, my brother was born. The significance of his birthdate immediately conveyed a super-patriot status on him; his bassinet was festooned with tiny American flags, and he was often dressed in red, white and blue—on birthdays and other celebrations. My usually law-abiding father decided the rules didn’t apply when it came to his Yankee Doodle Dandy; for years, he managed to get his hands on a cache of firecrackers, cherry bombs and other ear-splitting illegal items that he delighted in setting off all day and into the night. It wasn’t until about the time of America’s Bicentennial—and our grandparents’ 50th anniversary—that my brother finally realized that the holiday fireworks and festivities, sparklers and speeches weren’t all about him.
We celebrate the Fourth of July a little differently now. Mama and Papa passed on after 67 years of marriage. My brother typically parties at a lake with his friends, and the closest he gets to a patriotic get-up is a Jeff Gordon NASCAR hat and an Old Navy T-shirt with a flag on the front. Dad’s enthusiasm for scofflaw behavior has waned considerably since he moved to Utah, where his form of patriotic expression is not well-tolerated by local officials or even the neighbor next door.
Here in Santa Barbara my family and friends have so many choices it’s not possible to take them all in, but we manage to pack a lot of celebration in to one long day. We usually walk to the parade on State Street, where we clap and cheer for everyone—including the soldiers driving Army vehicles and the Veterans for Peace marching by; the kids in costume and the ever-present politicos waving and shaking hands. Whatever their positions or politics, everyone gets appreciated just for showing up—with special thanks to those who toss candy, and drivers of shiny, vrooming Corvettes.
This year’s theme is “The Gift of Individual Liberty,” a worthy thought to contemplate and put into action.
After the parade, we’ll head over to UCSB for the Foresters game, since there’s nothing more All-American than the great game of baseball—played by a hometown team of big-league hopefuls wearing red, white and blue on the Fourth of July.
By the time the game is over we’ll hustle home to fire up the barbecue for our guests—former Santa Barbarans who left town when they lost the lease for their successful Greek restaurant in Paseo Nuevo. But undaunted, independent spirits that they are, they reestablished themselves in Ashland, Oregon—where they’re more successful than ever.
We’ll forgo the waterfront crowds and craziness for our backyard celebration—and around time for fireworks head for the high point in the neighborhood—up the hill where St. Francis stood for so long. While the big parking lot is now gone, we can now stand in the middle of the public street and appreciate our right to be there.
As good Americans, we citizens of Santa Barbara, wherever we come from, wherever we’re going, we’ll adapt; we’ll remember, and importantly, we’ll forget. We will embrace our civic rights and responsibilities, participate in the process and move forward with respect for the past, anticipation of the future, and a good grip on our present moment—independent, happy and free.