We Americans usually spend this day eating hot dogs, hamburgers, barbeque, salads melons, and maybe playing a ball game or some other sport, perhaps there’s a baseball game on TV. The adults enjoying an adult beverage of choice, their children running off some of the soft drinks they have been drinking all day gearing up their appetites for the next round of food getting more and more excited about the fireworks they were going to watch later on or the sparklers that their parents have promised. There’s something to be said about that picture, what it is I’m not sure, just kidding, get off it already; geez I’m just getting started.
I had never really thought much about this holiday, I always knew how important it was, but like most youngsters I was more concerned with the fireworks than what had happened hundreds of years ago. I have always been interested in history, and the history of this country, but I never truly felt that one day was any different than the other, at least hundreds of years later anyway. Yes, what happened on that day, whatever day it was in history, was important to this country but why did I care if I celebrated it or if anyone else did for that matter. Then one year I began to look at it differently, I used to think that I was thirteen, but there are a few facts that don’t exactly add up. I want to say it was our bicentennial year but then I don’t think that I could have been doing what I was doing at the time. But, now as I write this I realize it was later like maybe the bicentennial of the constitution or something and that actually adds up. Whatever year it was, I remember being out in the back of our home sweeping off the deck when the church bells in the village began to ring. There are three churches in my small hometown and there was never a time that I had remembered them to have rung at the same time or on the same day for that matter. It hit me pretty hard and I stopped leaned up against the rail of the deck and listened to them ring and to their echoes coming up from the creek. I thought of many things, honor, pride, duty, country all of the things a good American thinks of on this day or at the very least they should if only for a second. Sacrifices made, lives changed, a country born. The shape and form it would take was unknown but it had to be better than what they were used to. A piece of parchment with writing and signatures, ideas, beliefs, thoughts of how they wanted to be. Men taking their own lives in hand and calling for something better. Perhaps these things sound similar in other countries. I thought of the men that had come up with the words on that piece of paper and wondered what it was that made them take the step that they had just taken.
Would we be that much different had we stayed a British colony? Would we have made the subsequent land purchases from the French and Spanish governments? I don’t know and I can’t say, I can only see what we are today and wonder.
It was the people that put their lives on the line after that declaration that made sure that we were well down that road. I have thought about those men women boys and girls that went up against a better trained, better equipped army to be able to say the things that we can today.
But for those hand full of men we would be a colony. But for those hand full of men we would not enjoy all of the things that we hold dear. But for those men we would not be able to speak our minds? If not for them where would we be?
There was a time when my Grandfather spent most of his summer weekends catering clambakes or what some called putting them on. I guess it had something to do with the male connotations to catering at that time. My mom has told me stories, well one story really it just seems to her that it was more, of nights where they, her sisters and brother, would be in the kitchen spending more time than any of them ever wanted making Manhattan chowder shucking corn and washing silverware, kitchen utensils, and whatever else that could be done ahead of time. I remember her complaining about it even then.
While I remember him doing this I don’t think I wasn’t old enough to help and by the time I was old enough he stopped doing them. Partly because of the work involved and partly because the gigs were coming farther and farther apart. I can only guess as to why this was happening other than companies and groups were getting away from it at that time and there just wasn’t much interest anymore.
I do remember driving for hours some weekends to some park or other to deliver some of the supplies that were either left behind or completely forgotten. I can’t say how old I was but I was still pretty young when one fourth of July weekend we drove out to where he was putting on a clambake to take him and his crew something that had been left behind or something that had to be picked up last minute. I took up my usual position, standing next to my Grandfather as close as I could get and right in the way of course. I can’t say he ever he ever yelled at me for being in his way but I am fairly certain that he would get a bit frustrated by it especially when he was trying to put a screen into the steamer. Now when I say steamer I mean STEAMER; these measured by the foot not by the inch. He had a few different sizes that he’d store up in the garage during the rest of the year. The largest was about twelve feet long four feet wide give or take an inch or two and about four feet deep the screens were roughly four by four and fit inside, with a large cover of course other wise I guess it wouldn’t be a steamer.
I would always attempt to hand him an empty rack so he could fill it with corn on the cob or clams or whatever else he was steaming at the time. Every now and again the wood under the steamer would smoke up and the breeze would drift it toward us. Over in another part of the park the families from whatever company he was putting the bake on for were playing their games and having fun. But not me, because I was important to the success of the day, after all if I wasn’t there to hand the empty screens to him then who would. I ate a piece of chicken or maybe it was a hamburger I can’t say for sure, what I do remember is that he gave me some of his clam chowder and we were off as I write this I have been trying to remember who it was that I was with, was I with mom and her friend Sharon, was it mom and one of her boyfriends (I say that like she had lots… oh well) or was it Grandma and someone else. It doesn’t matter really I was going to go see fireworks, I had some chowder and that’s all I cared about, chowder and fireworks. The road from the park went up hill; I set my chowder on the floor of the backseat as it was too hot to eat or to hold on to and I didn‘t want to spill any of it on me. You can guess what happened next, I spilled it of course not all of it but enough that I was mad. I was more mad that I wouldn’t be able to eat all of it than I was about having to stop and clean it up, fireworks and all. You see my Grandfather had probably the best Manhattan chowder recipe. To this day I have never tasted any even close to his, now I know my Grandmother probably did most, if not all of the cooking and when my mom was little she and her siblings did all the prep work, but like most chefs my Grandfather took the credit and I give it to him. Later that evening as I was sitting on the ground watching no doubt the second or third night of fireworks of the weekend, oohing and ahhing over them, I was also lamenting the loss of my chowder.
In a way Independence Day is a lot like that chowder that got spilled on the floor. I didn’t know what it was all about at the time I just knew that it meant fireworks and parades and I sure didn’t know anything about that chowder either I just knew it tasted good. We have gone two hundred and twenty eight years from that first day, and I for one think that it was worth it. There is a lot of talk this time of year about honor, duty, heroes and country, to those that fought for our freedom from what was believed an unjust government. We wouldn’t miss it if we had not experienced it, just as I wouldn’t have missed the chowder if I hadn’t spilled it. I went a long way for that didn’t I.
Now, whenever I think of Independence Day, I think of that hand full of men, fireworks and clam chowder and whenever I think of or eat chowder, even if it isn’t Manhattan or any good I think of my Grandfather, summer, clambakes and Independence Day.
So, to you my friends and family welcome to the United States of America enjoy it, embrace it, keep it close to your heart. Cook up some dogs, a few brats, barbeque up some chicken, pork or some steaks, break out the salads, melons and the beverages of choice, lift up your glass and toast those hand full of men and when you watch those fireworks remember the words of John Adams, when he said that this day ought to be celebrated with chiming bells, cannon fire and good wine or something like that.