Friday, July 03, 2009

July 4

When I was growing up, July 4 was our best family holiday. The others tended to get bogged down in my parents culture wars (think George and Martha in the Albee play.) My mother came partly from WASPy stock, family who came here in the 1730's; my father's parents had fled pogroms. Both parents felt a fierce connection to the promise of freedom implicit in our history and every year, until their culture wars made life together impossible, they'd recount the history of the country.

My father would recount the history of the revolutionary war up through the Stamp Act. My mother could recite most of the Declaration of Independence from memory, and then we would suffer through the harsh winter of 1777-78, the doubts, the triumphs, the faltering of the new country, and end with the Constitutional Convention. The Constitution somehow always coincided with the triumphant production of chocolate ice cream, hand-cranked in the old churn my mother had brought from her small-town home--perhaps there's an association of chocolate with freedom.
We would set off fire crackers, and then my parents would play their old 78's of Paul Robeson singing Ballad for Americans. These were issued by Victor Records in 1940 and my parents had bought them when they first started dating, right before Pearl Harbor and my father's disappearance into the Pacific Theater for almost four years.

We're living in one of America's most challenging times right now, with strong echoes going back to the 1930's. Remembering how my parents celebrated the 4th with us helps remind me that for all our problems as a society, for all the times we fall short of our heroic ideals, we still manage to come together as a nation to solve our most pernicious problems.
What are your own favorite memories of Independence Day?

Sara Paretsky

18 comments:

Libby Hellmann said...

What a wonderful post, Sara! Thank you. I grew up in DC as you know, and our cousins lived next door on both sides... and down the block. We'd all get together for a barbecue and patriotic skits (which the kids "wrote", directed, and starred in), and then we'd go down to see the fireworks on the Mall. Nice memories.

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