I remember when I was little, waking up early in the morning on the 4th of July -- there was so much anticipation around this beloved holiday. I’d brush my teeth, throw my hair up, and run the neighborhood with a few neighborhood friends. We’d pool our money together and try to do chores last minute so we could ride our bikes up to the grocery and purchase from the parking lot stands what little fireworks we were allowed at our age. Normally, it was relegated to sparklers and pop-its, but every once in a while we’d get a very flippant, irresponsible teen working the counter, and we’d get our picks – no matter that we were 10-12 years old!
There was always a block party. Most of the time every neighbor from our bend of the street showed up. Mr. White, the street’s watchman and caretaker, would always be cooking, and folks would bring side dishes and fireworks. I know there was always loads of food, but I somehow only remember this weirdly delicious corn flake potato casserole our neighbor Julie made. We’d pick these tiny pie cherries that were deep dark red from my neighbor’s tree so that every year, around the 4th of July, my fingertips would be stained for days.
As it grew dark we’d all prepare for the fireworks show. Each family on the street would light up the fun they’d purchased. We had these folding lawn chairs that smelled like summer, sunscreen, grass clippings, and a touch of mildew. The air was always a little smoky, and we’d wrap up in a blanket and watch the spectacle unfold. I loved these times. My only cares were how I was going to make a few bucks that day and how I could possibly get more of that corn flake casserole around 10 pm. We’d fall into bed still in our clothes from the day, and the next morning the kids had clean-up duty in the street. Mr. White and some of the other neighbors would be out in the street as well, pushing a broom, rounding up all the cardboard bits and debris from the evening prior.
These days, there is still that anticipation around the 4th. My parents host a big party each year with smoked meats and all the salads. The kids play in the lake, and there is never any pressure. It’s summer at its height, all the best fruit is ripe, and gardens are starting to burst with life. The summertime is a true reward for the year’s work. To celebrate our country’s birthday is such an honor.
Last week, I had the pleasure of listening to a prominent food writer here in Seattle. Diana Henry, known for her essays and whimsy and brilliantly simple take on good food, talked about America. When she was small, growing up in Northern Ireland, they had this fantastic fascination with America, saying that what was beyond the horizon once you couldn’t go any further was America. She said to us we don’t know what we have here. We’re lucky to be in America. It’s all her family ever thought about; everyone believed that once they grew up they’d get to come to America. I think sometimes we forget what a privilege it is to be afforded our freedoms and to celebrate with backyard cookouts and sprinklers and sparklers and to love our country. There is always far more that brings us together than anything that divides us as a nation.
This year I want to really enjoy the people I love. And I wanted very much to decorate a fun table for our party at my parents’ house. I went to my local Fred Meyer store, and was able to pick up all kinds of fun décor (it all happens to be 30% off through this coming Sunday)! How great is this adorable Americana flatware caddy? Goodbye to disposable utensils in a plastic cup! The mason jar glasses with lids aren’t just cute they are downright practical with loads of kids running around. I was able to get everything I needed to set the table, along with all the food, in one fell swoop at Fred Meyer. If you want to grab these cute items check out your local Fred Meyer store. The flags and flowers came from the seasonal section, only $2 for 4 flags -- great for the kiddos and the party table! And don’t forget popsicles; it isn’t the 4th without a rocket pop. I hope you have a safe and happy 4th of July, filled with summertime magic. And remember that even with our flaws, America is the home of the brave and the land of the free.