Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day Retrospective

Planters on the rain-drenched porch

Rain splashes against a north window

Moon at midnight

We didn't do anything out of the ordinary to honor the 4th of July this year. Other years we have jostled for a spot among the sidewalk crowds to view the parade, admiring the floats, the horses, the cowboys and Indians, the high school band. There is an annual evening rodeo. One attendence there was enough for me--an incredibly raspy loud speaker--clouds of dust, and suddenly awakened small children who bawled with a vengence when the firecrackers exploded.

Our family next door collaborated on a fine dinner: rib-eye steak which our son-in-law grilled to perfection [although he was a bit suspicious of the raspberry chipotle barbeque sauce which I bought!] potato salad, three-bean salad, corn on the cob, and a lemon meringue pie to finish-- a traditional and timeless feast.

When my sisters and I were growing up, it was our bachelor uncle who for many years organized a 4th of July picnic. Our guests were a beloved couple the age of my grandfather and whatever of their family or friends might be visiting them. They would arrive at noon from their farm a few miles to the east, bringing food to share; tables, chairs and an old wooden bench were hauled into the shade of a big maple, while my Dad cleared a year's accumulation of dead leaves and twigs from the outdoor fireplace. Bowls of salad, crocks of baked beans, sweating pitchers of kool-aid and iced tea were set out while the fire flared and smoked and eventually settled down to the hot coals that Dad considered right for cooking hamburgers and hot dogs. The devices used for grilling the meat were hinged racks made of closely spaced wire. The hamburgers or hot dogs were arranged on one half of the open grill, the other half folded down and if one was careful to keep the long double handles closely pressed together, the whole thing could be flipped without losing the meat into the fire. Whatever dessert of cake or pie was on offer, we children preferred the messy delight of toasted marshmallows, more often than not charred and fringed with ash from the smoldering fire. While the adults settled back to talk of cows and crops, church and town business, we younger ones sat on the grass licking sticky fingers and brushing ants from our bare legs.

Decades later, our children grown and my husband usually "on the road" trucking, friends and I found special events to attend during what had become a four day holiday weekend. The Vermont Symphany Orchestra performed in an outdoor ampitheater in Middlebury. Parking in that college town was always at a premium, so the plan was to squeeze into one vehicle, find a parking space on one of the side streets within walking distance, and stop to buy pints of Ben and Jerry's ice cream to eat while we enjoyed the concert. The performances were timed to end just at dark with Tchaicovsky's 1812 Overture complete with canon blasts.
In July of 1997, my last summer in Vermont, I made the short ferry journey, so familiar to generations of my family, "across the lake" to Fort Ticonderoga, meeting the same dear friends who had arrived there from their Weybridge farm via the Crown Point Bridge. Hundreds of people from communities on both sides of Lake Champlain thronged into the courtyard of the old fort to watch while the pride of the local police force, a German Shepherd dog, was put through his paces, while members of the Iroquis Nation marched in a "flag drill." The highlight was a performance by the Royal Pipe and Drum Corp, fresh from their duties at the handing over ceremonies in Hong Kong. Darkness fell while the old stones of walls and ramparts echoed with the skirl of bagpipes and the smart rap of snare drums. Of one accord we rose to our feet at the first strains of the final number, "Amazing Grace." Later, alone in my truck, I watched the moon rise over Lake Champlain as I inched along, part of the procession waiting for a return to the opposite shore on the ferry.

Yesterday storms blew down from the mountains bringing spatters of rain and bursts of wind all afternoon. After supper the rumble of thunder vied with the crack and boom of firecrackers. Lights blinked as lightning crackled across a dark sky. In town the rodeo was cancelled, a house was burned. Rain sheeted down the windows and leaves were torn from the cottonwoods. At nearly midnight we stood in our darkened house watching from the front door as showers of red, blue, green and gold streamed down the night horizon and a full moon rode the turbulence of billowing clouds.


  1. What a shame - not 4th of July weather for you this year but plenty of happy memories by the sound of it. I know Lake Champlain, have driven by it a couple of times on the way up to Burlington.

  2. How wonderful that you know the area! Burlington is about an hour north of "home"--we lived in Orwell in Addison country.