Many families enjoy the same Fourth of July traditions year after year. Maybe the tradition is a large family gathering for a picnic in a park. Maybe it’s a trip to a nearby lake for swimming and boating. Still others like to attend a parade. And for yet another group, this is the only summer holiday, so it might be spent sleeping in and getting caught up on home or yard projects. And, of course, watching fireworks is often a memorable holiday experience.
When I was growing up in Michigan, we had a family tradition on the Fourth of July. We’d have a breakfast picnic at the beach. We watched the fireworks at night, on a blanket eating Slowpoke suckers (given free to all kids attending). Then a long walk back to my parents’ friends’ house for sparklers and root beer floats.
Once my husband and I became the parents of two girls, we never did establish any traditions. For our family of four, we had a wide variety of experiences on the Fourth. When the girls were little, the daytime activities varied from swimming at our neighborhood pool to having the neighbor kids over to running through the sprinkler. One year we went to visit Grandma and Grandpa, who lived at the lake, for their pancake breakfast. It was served from two pontoon boats out on the lake and could only be reached by driving up in a boat. When the girls were middle-school aged, our good friends purchased a lake cottage and invited our family for a picnic, swim and boating. One of those years at their lake cottage, the weather was cold, cold, cold and rainy. After a quick trip to Walmart to buy sweatshirts, their daughter-in-law introduced us to the craft of “stamping”. It made for a fun, totally indoor holiday!
When the girls were of high school age, we drove from Indiana to Colorado to visit my husband’s sister and her husband. To watch the fireworks that night, we pulled off to the side of the road, got out of the car and watched a colorful display being shot off from a mountain top. The fireworks were like miniature bursts of color and “poofs” of sound.
When Lisa was attending college in Holland, MI we went there during those four years for the July holiday. My sister and family live there as well and one year, we went out on their boat to watch the fireworks. Another year, we watched from the beach. A local restaurant would rent out squares of grass on their front lawn for a close-up view of the fireworks and that was fun. Yet another year, we watched from their porch.
Fast forward to the years when Lisa was away from us starting her career in Washington, D.C.. She watched fireworks from her apartment, while back in Indiana, we went back to going to our friends’ lake cottage. By the time that Lisa transferred to Chicago, she was very ill from her eating disorder and spent that Independence Day in a Chicago hospital. It was a mid-week holiday, and my husband and I were still working. We could not get there and back in one day. So our family unit was separated for that Fourth. Three years later, Lisa was in an eating recovery clinic in Denver, CO and again, we were separated for that holiday. Those were Fourth of July holidays that made my heart heavy and we four had a hard time finding it to be a time of celebrating the birth of our country.
Now, after Lisa’s death, we have a pretty quiet holiday. We don’t get together with friends or family. Some years, our older daughter does things with her friends. The first year after Lisa’s death, I watched the night sky from our backyard patio as neighbors shot off some big firecrackers. The second year, our older daughter brought her friends here to watch the fireworks display from our backyard. They were kind and polite, but they must have thought it was pretty tame and lame as they didn’t return the following summer. Now, this year, I’m feeling very melancholy, reflecting on the Fourth of July experiences. I’m feeling envious of those who have traditions that are still exciting and fun-filled.
Traditions may change or evolve, but at the same time, I think that there is comfort and solace in knowing what to expect and being able to rely on routines. The Fourth of July is no exception. I wish that we had worked harder at setting some traditions for our family. I don’t know if that would make the holiday more or less easy to handle. What do you think?