The Fourth of July was never really a big deal to me as a child. Much like New Years Eve or DC’s cherry blossom festival, it just seemed like another reason for my parents to drag me somewhere. We might go on a “family adventure” to Rockville or even Washington DC to see the “National Fireworks! They are the fireworks of AMERICA” my Mother might excitedly explain. My Brothers and me would raise our eyebrows and go back to our Gameboys or Walkmen, secretly hoping Dad would get lost and we could all return home. That never happened though and year after year we would fight the crowds and search for the one little patch of ground we could claim ours.
It wasn’t until college when I learned the true meaning of Independence Day, and the girl who taught me was a West Virginian named Sarah. Sarah was a beautiful girl with long curly brown hair and a year around tan. She talked with a soft southern twang. It wasn’t unusual for her to say things like “Husbant” or butcher the word “Windowciel.” Always the proud and patriotic American, Sarah was never one to turn down a drink with a man who served our country. It could be a solider just back from a tour in Iraq or a solider reliving the glory days from WW2. I learned the all words to songs I thought I knew. “Grand Old Flag”, “The Star Spangled Banner”, and “Proud to be an American” were not out of the question while out at LB’s Bowery Street Pub celebrating the end of finals or a birthday. Sarah would always tell stories of home and the 4th upon returning from summer break. Sarah is from a small town called Chester, who upon entering proudly displays its claim to fame. “Home of the Worlds Largest Tea Pot” painted on a shut down hot dog stand, which is shaped to resemble a white and pink tea pot. While it is sizeable I still dispute that it is the largest in the whole world. There is a Main Street while a bank, fire station, American Legion, and Sarah’s House.
The summer after Sarah graduated from college she threw herself a graduation/ Fourth of July Party. Sleeping bags in hand, Marylanders came up in masses. No one really knew what to expect, but hoped for the best. The day started early with duck races. Little rubber ducky’s are sent floating down the street by an opened fire hydrant. On the bottom are numbers and the first ducky to cross the finish line wins the owner a gift basket from Frank’s Pastries! Main Street is splattered with street venders selling homemade crafts and anything fried. Fried Oreos, Candy Bars, Veggies, Pickles, and of course funnel cake. Everyone is dressed in red, white, and blue or some variation of the three. Kids have American flags painted on their little faces or tattooed on their arms. Flags fly high and proud, everyone is pleased to meet you. After a quick walk down Main Street it is back up to the house to help tap the first of four kegs. (Symbolic in that it is the Fourth of July). Dinner is served around 4 and consists of more fried delicacies: Fried Turkey, Potatoes and Onions. By the time the parade starts by the third keg as been tapped and sparklers are out in full force. The parade concludes with a spectacular fire works show. In Chester the fireworks glow a little bit brighter, the smiley and heart shaped fireworks seem more impressive, the entire atmosphere makes me proud to be an American.
The fourth keg is tapped and Flip Cup Survivor style is started. This competitive and often times cut throat game is a great was to make and lose friends. Alliances are made and broken all in hopes to be the sole survivor. The first year I was a month back from open heart surgery and drinking was out of the question, the fried food had done me in already. Never one to not play flip cup I played with water in a vodka bottle. My ploy got me to the final four but unfortunately someone realized that I should be dead and I was voted off. Never accepting of defeat I returned the following year to claim the title, which I did and the year after that.
This year due to circumstances that, were out of my control. (Getting fired and having no money.) I could not return to Chester and was forced to spend my Fourth of July in the city of Chicago. A ghost town during most national holiday’s and long weekends I was left to fend for myself. Dressed in a white tank top, blue cotton shorts, and red flip flops I proudly walked the streets of Chicago too my buddy Bev’s BBQ. Expecting to see a sea of red, white and blue, I disappointedly walked in to a terribly unpatriotic bunch seated eating watermelon and salad. Gone were the fried treats I had become accustom to, no one sang American songs or wore the American flag as a cape. Bev at least wore a “I Love American Boys” Shirt which brought a smile to my face. Flip cup gave way to cornhole and hillbilly golf. Finding that unacceptable I got a game started; survivor style. I made it to two on two, when my partner Dan fucked it up. Unable to admit he was at fault it came down to a flip off in which I was defeated. Dan went on to loose the game for my team something that wouldn’t have happened has I played. To prove this to at least myself, I challenged the attractive but ultimately overconfident and assholely Tony for a rematch. He was resistant wanting to play against his own team mate to see who the real winner would be. When she refused it was down to me and him. Four cups a piece, my blood was pumping and I was focused. He didn’t stand a chance as he flip his second; I picked up my case of Miller Light and triumphantly walked away humming to myself the tune of “Grand Old Flag”.