Sunday, July 5, 2009

Independence Day (Ferron)

From yesterday's Writer's Almanac:

Today is Independence Day. On this day in 1776, the Second Continental Congress unanimously adopted the Declaration of Independence, and the United States officially broke from the rule of England. The colonists were trying to persuade other nations of Europe to be on their side, so they included a long list of complaints about the king. The document said of the king, in part, "He is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the Works of Death, Desolation, and Tyranny, already begun with Circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous Ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized Nation."

Twenty-four years later, in 1804, the explorers Lewis and Clark had the first Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. They were traveling through a part of the Midwest that is now Kansas. They stopped at the mouth of a creek on July 4th, and named it Independence Creek in honor of the day. To celebrate, they fired their cannon at sunset and distributed an extra ration of whisky to the men.

There were unofficial celebrations of Independence Day from its first anniversary, but it really became a popular holiday after the War of 1812. On the frontier, it was the only time of the year when everyone in the countryside gathered together in one place. There would be parades and speeches, and the prettiest and most wholesome girl in the village would be named the Goddess of Liberty. Politicians would get up and call the king of England a skunk and challenge him to a fight. Drunk men in the streets would get into fights and call each other Englishmen. Soon, events like groundbreaking ceremonies for the Erie Canal and the Baltimore and Ohio Railroads were scheduled to coincide with July 4th festivities.

We're actually honoring the Fourth of July today rather than yesterday (although last night we did watch the PBS concert/fireworks on TV) - we bought an inexpensive grill at Home Depot and will cook out hot dogs and hamburgers, and round out the meal with corn on the cob, potato salad, fresh fruit and a patriotically-decorated chocolate cake. There will be 10 of us (immediate family, significant others and a few friends) - we'll also celebrate two (July 2) birthdays: my husband's and my brother's girlfriend's.

After clean-up time, my husband and I will head back over to my sister's to spend one last night together before he flies back to Florida Monday evening - it's going to be so hard to say goodbye (don't go there yet, Susan!)...

Although I watched and waited for it every day,
somehow I missed it, the moment when everything reached
the peak of ripeness. It wasn't at the solstice; that was only
the time of the longest light. It was sometime after that, when
the plants had absorbed all that sun, had taken it into themselves
for food and swelled to the height of fullness. It was in July,
in a dizzy blaze of heat and fog, when on some nights
it was too hot to sleep, and the restaurants set half their tables
on the sidewalks; outside the city, down the coast,
the Milky Way floated overhead, and shooting stars
fell from the sky over the ocean. One day the garden
was almost overwhelmed with fruition:
My sweet peas struggled out of the raised bed onto the mulch
of laurel leaves and bark and pods, their brilliantly colored
sunbonnets of rose and stippled pink, magenta and deep purple
pouring out a perfume that was almost oriental. Black-eyed Susans
stared from the flower borders, the orange cherry tomatoes
were sweet as candy, the fruit fattened in its swaths of silk,
hummingbirds spiraled by in pairs, the bees gave up
and decided to live in the lavender. At the market,
surrounded by black plums and rosy plums and sugar prunes
and white-fleshed peaches and nectarines, perfumey melons
and mangos, purple figs in green plastic baskets,
clusters of tiny Champagne grapes and piles of red-black cherries
and apricots freckled and streaked with rose, I felt tears
come into my eyes, absurdly, because I knew
that summer had peaked and was already passing
away. I felt very close then to understanding the mystery;
it seemed to me that I almost knew
what it meant to be alive, as if my life had swelled
to some high moment of response, as if I could
reach out and touch the season, as if I were inside
its body, surrounded by sweet pulp and juice,
shimmering veins and ripened skin.

QUOTE: "You have to love a nation that celebrates its independence... with family picnics where kids throw Frisbees, the potato salad gets iffy, and the flies die from happiness." ~ Erma Bombeck

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