Taking the Fourth

Every year on Independence Day we have a barbecue and pot-luck with a group of people from our church. Our pastor and his wife, who are regular old friends of ours and who live right next to the church, decorate their yard with strings of lights and round paper lanterns, she spends all day cooking and preparing, and he fires up a sooty black charcoal grill that looks like a piece of equipment that might be used for odd tarring jobs around a railroad yard. The rest of us bring salads, cookies, and our children. The kids get high on cookies and cake and staying up way past their bedtimes.

After several hours of sitting around talking and eating, we all leave the church, which is in the middle of Wallingford, and join the hundreds of people walking down toward Gasworks Park on Lake Union to watch the fireworks display. The kids are thrilled by this trek, bizarre as it is to see so many other people moving in one direction on the sidewalks. The children marvel loudly at the incidental fireworks (illegal, all) that go up in backyards all around us in anticipation of the main event. When we get to the neighborhood just above the park, where the police have blocked off the roads to cars, we spread our blankets out in the middle of Burke Street and hunker down.

I’m not what I would call a patriot, or rather, I’m not what most people who call themselves patriots would call a patriot. I’m glad I am an American citizen because most of the alternatives are untenable. The thing I really cherish about this country is that you can (still) (at least as of this writing) speak your mind about the way you think things should be done. In my mind, a patriot is a person who sees clearly the failings of his own government, is not afraid to name them, and is willing to put his vote, his dollar, and maybe even his time where his mouth is to correct those failings. If I was better educated about politics I would consider myself that kind of patriot.

But what I really feel an attachment to, when I think of this holiday, is this group of people, some old and some young, some very conservative and some very progressive, some bookish and some more interested in sports, some whose faith is a sure and unquestioned thing and others, like me, whose faith is a journey through a forest of fears and a desert of doubts (I really considered not writing that line, but the alliteration was just so achingly available and well, I don’t do it very often).

I guess If I’m put to it, that’s my America — a bunch of folks having a pot-luck, each bringing their own recipes to the meal, listening to each other’s stories, honoring one another, even arguing when their passions are struck, and then taking a long walk together, lit by magic.

To Mara it just means magic.

To Mara the Fourth of July just means delight.

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2 Responses to “Taking the Fourth”


  1. 1 Louis July 8, 2009 at 17:58

    I enjoy your writing, Matt. And a beautiful photo as well. I love the 4th of July. As a kid it meant spending the days leading up to the 4th hanging out at the Red Devil and Ace fireworks stands, loading up on sparklers and smokebombs. My father would buy the family-pak (with names like, “Piccolo Pete” or “SPECTACULAR Lawn Assortment”) of roman candles, fountains and pinwheels and we would have our family fireworks show in the backyard with friends and neighbors. This year I celebrated the 2nd of July (Dois de Julho) in Bahia. July 2nd 1823, Brazil won their independence from the portuguese. The celebrations are similar, family, barbecue and fireworks. I had many friends and family wish me a happy 4th on Facebook, but I really wish I could’ve gone home to celebrate with them.

    • 2 jstwndrng July 8, 2009 at 23:50

      Louis,
      Again, thanks for contributing so thoughtfully and reflectively. I remember Piccolo Petes and those others you mentioned. There was also one that used to spin like a dirvish and hop around: I threw a lit one into the water at Chism Park one night and after bubbling and fizzing brightly underwater for a second it jumped back out and flew for several yards over the surface of the lake before sputtering out. Eerie.

      I hear you about being away from home. I haven’t traveled much in recent years, but coming home is always the best part. Happy Dois de Julio and Fourth of July!


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