Growing up, I had mixed feelings about the Fourth of July. On the one hand, it was awesome. Grilling was typically involved. My dad would cook up his specialty: chicken smothered in Heinz BBQ sauce and tinfoiled corn on the cob. Then we’d drive down to the Taste of Lombard where we would stake our spot around the pond and wait for the fireworks to begin while fending off mosquitoes – we never had the forethought to bring repellant – and watching the other suburbanites pop a squat on the grass. (This was as much activity as my father could handle. He once attempted the Taste of Chicago and nearly had a meltdown between the crowds, heat and ten-dollar funnel cakes.)
Yet each time Independence Day loomed on the calendar, my stomach would begin to twist and ache with nausea. It wasn’t bad chicken; I was anxious about how quickly the summer was passing me by. June was gone? I knew those carefree nights of freeze tag and firefly catching would be coming to an end much too fast. The calendar didn’t lie; a third of my summer was already over, and the remaining weeks would soon enough Slip ‘n Slide into the first day of school. Sparklers and snappers could distract me for only so long. Independence Day was always bittersweet.
You would think then that as an adult the Fourth of July would carry even less joy. Except for those clever teacher friends of mine who figured out how to retain their three months of freedom, life is no longer fractured between summer and school. For most people, Independence Day now translates merely into a three-day furlough from work. However…
No offense to Dad, but the BBQs are way better now. Sure, my ten-year-old self took great pride in making sure those chicken breasts were completely covered in sauce by the time my dad whisked them outside to the grill, but then again, that might be exactly why I’m a vegetarian today. Plus, I can’t truthfully say that the Fourth of July was the only time we indulged in BBQed poultry and ears of corn drowned in butter. Any given summer, we enjoyed these charcoaled delicacies at least once a week with little alteration to the menu, though a baked potato or two would occasionally substitute as the requisite vegetable. Nowadays the BBQs are much more exotic. Seven-layer dip, pasta salad, quinoa… The choices are limitless, not to mention an abundance of Gardenburgers and Tofurky dogs. Moreover, now I have actual friends with which to enjoy my meal. Back in the day, I was lucky to get even a minute or two of my big sister’s time before she blew me off to eat in the solace of her locked bedroom. I must say, it’s a much more enjoyable experience to dine with those who actually like you.
No offense either to the great town of Lombard, but the fireworks are also better. Just drive down to the beach and you have the most amazing view of all the coastal communities each having their own display. Should you not be able to make it to the shore, no worries. The fine residents of LA will not let you down. Sure, it’s completely illegal to hold a fireworks celebration in one’s own backyard, but that won’t stop my patriotic neighbors from showing their love of country and all things pyrotechnic. As the evening wears on and Los Angelenos get drunker, the show only gets better. Why set off just one Roman candle when you can do ten at the same time?
Though childhood summers free from responsibility and obligations are a thing of the past, maybe that’s exactly why the Fourth of July is so much better now. Most people are lucky to get even ten vacation days a year, so you gotta make every holiday count. Also, I am shocked by the lack of ulcers developed as a child given the amount of needless worrying over having only two more months of summer by the time Independence Day rolled around. Thank goodness I never had summer school; I probably would have had a nervous breakdown.