Thursday, July 3, 2008

Celebrating the Fourth of July

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July.

When I was a little girl, I absolutely LOVED the Fourth of July. I come from a pretty small town in Michigan, and the Fourth was one of those days when the whole place stopped down to have some fun.

The day began early with Dad getting the grill ready for some barbecued chicken. In those days, there was a rotisserie basket thing that turned the chicken all day long so it never cooked too long in one spot. I can still hear the hum of the thing as it turned for hours and hours.

Us kids practically LIVED for the big parade. Floats, bands and Miss Manistee were big parts of it. Plus they tossed candy off the floats in those days - perfect for a chunky girl with a sweet tooth!

The parade was the highlight of the day. Folks would line U.S. 31 and downtown River Street to watch. There were all the high school and middle school bands, of course, and the Scottville Clown Band - which was a bunch of guys dressed up like women playing instruments. They always scared the poop out of me, but they were a semi-famous local group.

There were lots of antique cars and fire engines, the mayor, of course, and certain city officials. But of course my sisters and I always wanted to see Miss Manistee, the Strawberry Queen. She was always so beautiful and wholesome and waved like you thought a true queen would. She was usually a teen from the local high school. The pageant itself brought girls in from all the surrounding counties for a chance to win that rhinestone tiara. Because it was affiliated with the Miss America Pageant, she not only had to be beautiful, but she had to be talented as well. No milking cows or shearing sheep - only singers, dancers, musicians and of course - BATON TWIRLERS - ever became Miss Manistee.

After the parade, we went back home to eat barbecue, chat with relatives, gorge ourselves sick on strawberries and soda pop (this was one of the few times when we were allowed a WHOLE CAN and didn't have to share it four ways) and all the goodies that came with the Fourth. We would lay down in the grass and take a nap, or the more adventurous would venture on down to the beach to watch the Lumberjack contests or AAAAA baseball. Sometimes it meant taking a drive to the cemetery to plant a flag or some red, white and blue flowers or pinwheels on the graves of our ancestors.

Also, the Fourth of July always coincided with the National Strawberry Festival. This meant that dessert was always strawberry shortcake, strawberry ice cream, strawberry cheese cake or some other variation of the strawberry. For weeks before and after, mom and grandma would be making and canning strawberry jam and freezing strawberries to use in the winter months.

When dusk came, and we had had a snack of leftovers and more strawberries, we all piled into the car and went down to the beach to watch the fireworks. There was nothing more wonderful than those beautiful, swirling, colorful, noisy lights popping off in the sky, the scent of gunpowder and cheap wine, and the sounds of people kissing as the fireworks went off, as if kissing at just the right time would bring them happiness and a good long marriage. Usually one of us would fall asleep and Dad would have to carry us back to the car. We always slept good that night.

I miss those old-fashioned, small town Fourths. I miss the freedom we had to ride our bikes and follow the parade to get more candy. I miss eating strawberries right off the vine and not worrying about pesticides. I miss Dad's rotisserie chicken and grandma's strawberry cheesecake.

Most of all I think I miss being a kid. Being a kid in a small town was a wonderful gift that I took totally for granted.

Tomorrow, I will line my drive with little American flags (that have been made in China) and Carl will make some barbecued ribs and a brisket. Our friend Lorrie will come by to share the bounty. We will eat until our stomachs are about to pop and then we will eat some more. Later on, we will sit and watch the fireworks from our deck.

And I will totally miss HOME, and my family, and being a kid and feeling so safe - back when the Fourth of July was such a wondrous, magical time.