I woke up this morning around six and couldn’t get back to sleep. After letting Willow out for her morning pee, and her shooting back upstairs to no doubt wiggle up close to my wife in bed, I flopped down on the couch to watch the men’s doubles from Wimbledon. That alone was a huge departure from what I might have done thirty years ago. Back then, in my forties, I would most likely have donned my “whites,” and made my way down to the public tennis courts to seek a game of my own. Of course, that hasn’t happened since my mid fifties, when I decided that if I couldn’t play tennis at an acceptable level, I’d give the game up (which I did).
Tomorrow is the 4th of July, and that reminds me of still other changes that have occurred not only in my life, but in the life of the republic (yes, folks, it’s called a republic, NOT a democracy). Tomorrow, our nation will celebrate its 246th Independence Day, but I’ll wager that at least half its citizens can’t even tell you what the day itself represents. My grandmother, who would be about 134 tomorrow, if she were still alive, could most certainly tell you the significance of the 4th of July. An immigrant from Italy, Eugenia Perrone Natale shared her birthday with that of our nation, the day that we celebrate our independence from Mother England.
Ask the average citizen what they have planned for tomorrow, and most of the replies will have something to do with barbecues or fireworks. Back when I was growing up, a parade would have been mentioned first and then maybe the fireworks. But the parades are what I remember most. My most unforgettable 4th of July and my first parade, however, occurred in 1955. That was the year we moved from Brooklyn, New York to a sleepy little suburban town in New Jersey called Oradell. Up until then, I had never seen a parade. And what a grand parade it was. There were Little League baseball teams and Boy Scout troops marching out of step; there were American Legion and VFW contingents marching in step—and there were bands. But the band that sticks out most in my memory was the Hawthorne Caballeros, its members dressed in black trousers, white shirts, and red sashes, each in a wide-brimmed black hat. You could hear them from blocks away playing “Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White” on their brass instruments, accompanied by a resounding percussion section.
After the parade, everyone gravitated to Memorial Field, where there were free hot dogs and soda for the kids, and beer for the adults. And there were horseshoes, too, the metallic ringing of them striking the posts reverberating across the expanse of the field. Then came the baseball games. Little League games at one end of the enormous field, Babe Ruth League games at the other end. And of course there was tennis, in between. Later that evening came the fireworks. I had seen fireworks before at Coney Island, but I’d never seen them like this before, up close and personal. They were exploding right over my ten-year-old head—what a wonderful way to end an amazing day.
There have been many enjoyable Independence Days since that one back in 1955, but most pale in comparison. I have no plans for tomorrow; most likely I’ll spend it watching Wimbledon tennis (some things never change). There won’t be a barbecue (our barbecue grill sits rusting on our back patio), and there definitely won’t be a parade; I don’t even know where I’d go to see one. Mostly I’ll reflect upon previous 4th of July holidays, and content myself with memories that will make me smile. No doubt, Becky and I will curl up on the couch in the evening, along with Willow, and watch the fireworks display sponsored by Macy’s, and then shuffle off to bed.
Happy birthday, America . . . and you, too, grandma!