Solemnizing the Fourth
Solemnizing the Fourth
On the Op-Ed page of The New York Times of July 4, 2003, Richard M. Ketchum offered this quote from a letter of John Adams to his wife Abigail, about the proper celebration of Independence Day: it "ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of the continent to the other from this time and forever more." Amen.
The residents of our neighborhood (and their friends) did Mr Adams proud this Fourth of July. We solemnized the day, boy, did we solemnize the day.
It began with a parade. To that end, and for reasons family pride prevents me from divulging, I rode a grandson's mountain bike a mile downhill and, at the end of the festivities, what seemed like ten miles uphill, so that it could be creped in red, white, and blue. If you know where to look you can spot it in one of the accompanying photos. There was a small wagon throne for King Daniel (Conway), Razor scooters for the Carnes and their guests, Alex and James Hartmann, a cocker spaniel with a patriotic scarf, plenty of Moms and a few Dads on foot, and a few onlookers applauding from the sidelines. The bikes and scooters did a double loop of the block, while the pedestrians in the ninety degree heat considered discretion the better part of valor and made just one circuit before finding refreshment on the Rosano's front lawn.
According to the aforesaid Op-Ed piece, one of the earliest "solemnizations" of Independence Day in New York City, was attended by proceedings at "Corres Tavern, where 13 toasts were drunk, in honor of the states, and the day closed 'with festivity and humor.'" Ice in July, if not unknown in 1787, was a commodity rarer than fine gold, so the revelers of the newly-minted Republic could not slake their thirst and cool their bones in the rising heat with chilled beer... as did the convivial crowd in shorts and T shirts on the Rosano lawn. Hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, chips, and several varieties of vegetable salads unknown in Adams' (and, probably, Nixon's) day were also consumed.
Contests (Mr Adams' "games") were conducted. Water balloons were tossed until broken. Watermelon pits were spit for distance. An automobile tire was hung from a tree on the front lawn enticing many children to imitate monkeys. Adults enjoyed their favorite recreation, eating, drinking, and swapping stories.
Barbara and I have found what many of you could have told us from your experience, if only we had been wise enough to have asked, that young children are the bridges to community connection, one home to another, the network radiating outward from the elementary school classrooms, gathering up moms and dads, and, in our case, grandmas and pops. Call it a serendipitous consequence of welcoming grandchildren into our home. We not only have the pleasure of their company, but the company of all of their friends and their parents.
The piece de resistance of the day awaited the approach of darkness. Then the solemnization of the day achieved its zenith. One of the twins, teasingly renamed "Pyromaniac," petitioned, finagled, and generally persisted until we bought for him the fireworks packages sold at Waldbaums. I could not believe that Connecticut had legalized fireworks, but much to my initial dismay I discovered that the state legislature had indeed recently authorized the use of a mild class of fireworks. Incendiaries without explosive charges could be sold and fired. No device could send sparks or flames more than a few feet into the air. I checked with the local police, expressing my disbelief that fireworks should be legalized. The officer responding took a decidedly defensive posture until I told him I wasn't blaming him, just wondering how on earth in Puritan New England they could legalize long illegal artifacts of celebration, when even New York City allows nothing... unless, of course, you are Chinese and it's February.
So with considerable reluctance we yielded to the wishes of our dear Pyro. And, as the use of the fireworks developed over three nights (two to practice, one to solemnize), our young advocate for a non-fizzle, sparkling Fourth proved once again that Pop doesn't always know best. The evening of Independence Day family, friends, and neighbors gathered on the brick terrace on our back lawn, swatted at the mosquitoes, and applauded with each display carefully orchestrated by Henry and Robert, who, generously, invited their friends to share in the joy of igniting the Strobe, the Golden Flower, and Lady Liberty, among eight or nine different incendiaries made in China and sold in Waldbaums.
We left the terrace and let the mosquitoes go hungry the rest of the evening. We were proud that we had kept faith with President John Adams. Our Independence Day had been properly solemnized!