As a little girl, I quickly grew to adore summer and all the nouns associated with it: half-melted orange creamsicles, wet dogs, beach trips, my birthday, and fireflies. Early on, and with gusto, I might add, July ascended the throne of being my favorite month.
And why shouldn’t it be my favorite month? Summers here are balmy and blooming, and most of the general populous is enjoying some type of leisure time. But, I digress.
One of the key reasons why I have such a fondness for July goes back to Independence Day, and my treasured memories surrounding this holiday. You see, from the age of five until around my twelfth year, July 4 meant going to the community pool with my family.
It might not seem like a lot, but when you’re five years old with no phone, cannot drive, and a typical afternoon for you is watching “Dora the Explorer” on the living room tube while your older brother laments over not having clicker control, going to the pool is a big deal. The pool meant swimming, diving, chlorine eyes, screaming kids, and ice cream. The pool was my freedom.
So every year, we’d pack up the silver Toyota Highlander, (gosh, I miss that car) with foldable chairs, sunscreen, towels, and quarters for the snack stand. And every year on the drive to and from the pool, my father would play the same lovely song from his speaker: Ray Charles’ rendition of “America the Beautiful.” Writing at my laptop in complete silence, I can still hear the prideful drums and brass opening up the song, followed by Ray’s mesmerizing, soulful voice pouring out onto the track like lemonade:
Oh beautiful, for heroes proved
In liberating strife
Who more than self, our country loved
And mercy more than life.
We’d reach the pool, and unpack our folding chairs, me usually with peak difficulty. My parents would watch my brother and I like hawks, making sure we applied ample sunscreen before venturing out any further. I can still hear them in unison, barking out, “Make sure to get the backs of your ears, they’ll burn like a crisp!”
Once the sunscreen was squared away, they’d sit back. My father would always have some sort of hardcover historical fiction in hand, and my mother, always with her magazines. I’d be at the pool all afternoon with my brother running around barefoot, cutting my feet on sticks from huge oaks and maples. It would be unusual if a fiercely competitive game of wiffle ball did not break out between the girls and the boys. After a difficult coaxing, my brother and I would help our parents pack up the Toyota, sitting on towels to protect the seats from the concoction of sunblock, chlorine, and kiddy sweat that resided on our skin.
Ray’s voice continued on the road home, flowing out our open car windows:
America, America, may God thy gold refine
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine.
Time for dinner. My dad’s amazing grilled chicken, which he has happily been serving my family for years, was more than enough to bring together two antsy siblings to sit together at the dinner table. At this point, my dad would deliver some sort of monologue about his love for the United States- sometimes dipping into his former Navy service, or sometimes from places he’s been across the country. I’ve grown to appreciate the talk over the years, even if some material may be repeated; it’s all in good measure. It comforts my soul to know that there are people out there who can just set aside all their worries, and make time to appreciate what has been, and what is already here. My father has taught me that lesson quite thoroughly over the years.
And you know when I was in school, we used to sing it something like this, listen here:
Oh beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain.
At sunset I’d wander out onto the porch with my mother. Pennsylvanian summer nights, as you know, are usually the epitome of relaxing, at least for me: light warm breezes, and a pastel pink sunset. We’d wait patiently for the local fireworks to start, and when they did, I’d rush inside to alert my brother and dad, who were usually fixated on the ESPN channel baseball game airing.
After the first spark, everything seemed to slow down. We’d stand out there on that porch all night watching the fireworks. My mom and I share a favorite; those ones with the golden shimmers that fizzle out across the sky after it explodes. We’d stand together in an awe-filled silence, my dad with his arms around me, watching the sky with peaceful fascination.
But now wait a minute! I’m talking about America, sweet America,
You know, God done shed his grace on thee
He crowned thy good, yes he did, in a brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.
So this Independence Day, I hope to take away from it what I have in the years prior: a sense of relaxation, a newfound pride in my citizenship, but most of all, a reuniting of my family. I also hope that you can find the meaning in your family traditions on this day, July 4, making the most out of a simple summer day that only happens once per year.