I have spent 4th of Julys in a myriad of places - camp, the beach, San Antonio, Richmond. It's one of those holidays that translates well no matter where you are. I'd imagine that even if you were abroad, as long as you can gather around a cluster of Americans and wave a flag or two, it would feel like Independence Day. But, there are several necessary ingredients that make the 4th of July feel like more than just a date on a calendar. And they are...
1) watermelon-I must have watermelon on the 4th of July. Preferably it would be a whole watermelon, cut and served to eat. When I was little we used to get whole watermelons at my grandparents house and my papa would do the honors of cutting the monster fruit up on a wooden picnic table next to the pond. Each cousin would get a massive chunk, and we'd sit happily on our little man made beach and slurp away. Seed spitting contests would always ensue, something I sadly never got the hang of. But I'd still devour my piece of watermelon-savoring the cool, sugary pieces of fruit while all of the sticky, sweet red juice would run freely down my face and arms. But none of us cared. When we were done, we'd take our sticky, bathing suit clad selves and run at full speed into the pond. I was spoiled rotten by my childhood 4th of Julys-long, endless summer days at my grandparents house with cousins and aunts and uncles-costume parades by the reservoir, hours of swimming and canoing, burgers and hot dogs in the dark with fireflys surrounding us, and of course, the requisite, all important watermelon.
2) a little Wimbledon-for as long as I can remember I've never not watched Wimbledon on the 4th of July-and it just provides the greatest contrast. As we Americans loudly and boisterously celebrate our independence day with bright colors and fatty foods and noisy fireworks-the most serene and elegant of tennis events goes calmly forward. The best, of course, is when an American is playing. Tennis is such an international sport, and one of my favorite parts about it is that you can really root not just for players but for your nation. So when you can root for an American on the quintessential American holiday, well that's just perfection. There's got to be a quiet moment on a day of 4th of July festivities-and there's no better way to fill it than with a couple of hours of supreme grass court tennis.
3) fireworks-a little on the obvious side, but no matter how many 4th of July fireworks displays I've seen, there's always something a little awe-inspiring about these explosions of light in the night sky. And there's also always something a little touching, a moment during the display where I feel a tiny lump in my throat in spite of all my adult pretensions. Because as much as we complain, as sarcastic and cynical a nation we may attempt to appear, I still believe that Americans are fundamentally a very optimistic, earnest and open hearted people. And what better manifestation of that can there be than fireworks-a big bright and wordless act of celebration and yes, that out of style, much disparaged feeling called patriotism.
Sure, I'll take a cookout, maybe a baseball game and some flag waving. But all I really need on the 4th of July are the above mentioned factors. But strip all of those away, and I'll still love this holiday. Because, yeah, I'll say it proudly without a hint of irony or cynicism. I love my country. I don't see my country as perfect or infallible by any means. But I love American for what she has been, for what she is, and for what she still could be.