Fourth of July brings so many nostalgic images to mind.
I grew up in a suburb of Detroit that was considered a village. I'm not sure of the definition of a village, but I suspect that it has to do with population (did you know that areas of North Dakota are now considered frontier again, based on population per square mile?). It was a small area of homes built in the 1930's, with a few businesses, churches and an elementary school. We contracted with our neighbor "town" for police, fire and library. We didn't even have our own post office, and this continues to cause confusion today. If I print out a mailing label based on the zip code, it prints out Franklin, Michigan. I cross it out and write Beverly Hills, otherwise it will go to the wrong post office and who knows when my mail will arrive!
The one time of year when I was especially aware of the boundaries, and even the existence of our village, was at Fourth of July.
Every Fourth of July there was a parade which began at the neighborhood parochial school and wended its way through the streets to the public elementary maybe a mile away. It was led by a fire engine, and perhaps a police car, with lights going and siren sounding, on and off. Then came the classic cars! These were always gleaming, polished vehicles of yesteryear, often with drivers and passengers in appropriate costume. And then came all the area kids! We rode our bikes, decorated with red, white and blue crepe paper woven around our spokes, draped from the handlebars, streaming from our grips. The bike decorating could occupy hours of preparation and the task became to do something better than the year before - more sensational and glorious! Crepe paper, old playing cards attached with clothes pins, streamers and stars all came into play, and we decorated our bikes whether we were riding in the parade or not. Those bikes were ridden with such pride until all the vestiges of décor broke into fragments left in our wake.
You could also walk in the parade, dressed as your favorite historical character, super hero or anything else you desired! One year I dressed as Little Red Riding Hood because the woman across the street from us lent me a great red cape. Or we would resurrect our Halloween costumes, or because it was warmer than Halloween, we could wear a ballet costume without a coat over it!
Some people actually put real floats together, either using a car or even a wagon. My sisters and I and a few friends dressed as beauty pageant girls one year, complete with swimsuits and sashes, and sat in my parents' red Pontiac convertible as my dad drove through the parade. He found that experience stressful! I think we had our pictures in the paper that time, which was very fun.
And there were prizes and ribbons in all sorts of categories, and there was so much excitement leading up to this usually sunny warm day. It began around ten in the morning as I recall, and by the Fourth of July we had relaxed into our less hurried summer life, so being up and in costume and in the schoolyard by nine-thirty or so seemed really early and exciting of its own accord! I remember being nervous as the judges circulated through the undulating mass of kids, handing out ribbons and praise.
Then it was time to begin our parade! We walked down our familiar neighborhood streets lined with residents sitting in lawn chairs near the curbs, waving at kids they knew. You would just follow the crowd, keeping track of siblings and friends who were often initially separated by the judging, but knowing that you would all end up at the same place. And before too long, just when it was losing its novelty and, I think, because I lived a block away from the start, I suddenly didn't know any of the people lining the streets, and that wasn't as much fun, it was over. We were at the public school playground and the task became to get your Popsicle, donated by the area milkman, and find your parents to go home.
The rest of the day was occupied with fried chicken and potato salad, family and good family friends. It seemed long, and fun. In the evening we would roast marshmallows and light sparklers, (always leaving them overnight on the damp grass) carefully lit by my dad, who diligently, with my mom, kept the four of us separated as we wrote our names in the night air, to see our arcs of light suspended in the darkness for a fragment of a second. Usually there were fireworks somewhere that we managed to see, and I would watch out of my bedroom window even after I was in bed to see if I could catch a glimpse of even one more.
A friend here in Seattle mentioned to me the other day that she misses her family terribly on Fourth of July. As it happened, our parents were close friends, and my family often spent the Fourth with hers, and I said I felt the same way. Perhaps it's because it isn't a gift-giving holiday, perhaps it's because it's in the summer, which has its own magic for kids, but maybe it's because we celebrate the ideals upon which our country was formed - and those ideals find expression in these simple pursuits by reminding ourselves of where we live and with whom, and how life is good.