Independence Day is so inherently celebratory and stress-free it seems odd to think of it as a holiday. There are no cards or gifts; there is no real family obligation. There is no food preparation or turning one’s home upside down. What there is though are oodles of ways to celebrate (and zero societal expectation to really do so.) Eat a hot dog, wear the colors, hold a sparkler and you’re part of the festivities. Sit at home and read historical doctrines and you’re in. Drive on the right side of the road and feel grateful & you’ve partied. Regardless of personal politics or religion, it’s hard to bristle at the substance of the holiday. Declaration of Independence? Birthday Party? What’s not to like.
Fireworks are nice, though I prefer mine small, local and muted. Barbecues and picnics are just an excuse for that berry flag cake for me. What really makes me happy and filled with that 4th feeling is a small town parade. I’m not sentimental enough to care whose small town or where. I just want to see kids pulling wagons or riding their decorated bikes. I want my Uncle Sams and scouts of all ages and I want to be pelted with candy from fire trucks. Truth be told without the incentive of impending candy pelting, I’m not sure I would find some of the marchers so endearing. So this 4th, in pursuit of a parade I suited up and crossed a bridge for my slice of the patriotic pie.
At the first sight of re-enactors I knew I’d found the place. I’m afraid I can’t get more specific than “re-enactor” as the men were dressed in Revolutionary garb, the women were dressed in 19th century dresses and they were all playing Dixie. The local Republican Party and local Democratic Party were in modern dress and marched with their banner. I’m accustomed to politicians (elected or running) marching, but these were just party members. I know we think that there are only two political parties in this country but that doesn’t actually make it true. They are of course recruiting for their locality and why not? But what about the disproportionate representation of the military at the parade? I am all for honoring those who serve but I find it difficult to consider the Fourth of July as a military holiday. If the military marched to represent service to our country where was the contingent from Teach For America, Americorps and the Peace Corps? If they were marching to represent our ‘freedoms’ how about a media float or marching judges and voting booths?
I know I was at a small town parade, but that’s the point isn’t it? Our country is made up of these towns and on some level they really do represent how Americans feel and think. I’ve no doubt that there were parades around this country that were broad and inclusive. But the majority were probably more like my sample of one. I’m not convinced though that we need to forfeit quaint and charm to avoid reductionism. Sitting in my shady spot, trying to blend into the fauna and flora, I learned about what mattered to my sample of one; a small suburban town 20 minutes outside of New York City. To the naked untrained eye, the marchers and spectators seemed to be of the same ethnicity and perhaps religion. They were not overly enthusiastic about children (the cars participating outnumbered the children participating 2:1) and they really liked bagpipes and kilts (not one, but two marching groups!) They are a generous people, supplying spectators with; candy, flags, candy, pinwheels, candy & temporary flag tattoos. And you did not need to be Jane Goodall to detect that they really like firetrucks. At least 12 of them were wheeled out at the end (a la Santa Claus.) One dozen firetrucks. For a small town whose most popular form of architecture is brick colonial homes.
As the final four firetrucks made their way down the route, I put on my straw hat, grabbed my mini flag and headed cross the river. No, I had no powdered wig, and yes I was technically headed in the wrong direction, but a little poetic license with one’s re-enacting can be festive.