Happy (Late) Fourth of July!

6 Jul

The last time I saw an American flag, it was flying tall at what I like to call Chateau America, or the U.S. Embassy in Ljubljana, which is housed in a quaint looking chateau—probably one of the most picturesque embassies I’ve ever seen.

That flag flying high is something that’s got me thinking lately, after I sat down and realized: this year will mark the third Fourth of July that I am not in the U.S.

The last time that I was in the U.S. for Independence Day was 2008, when I headed down to Rhode Island to watch a parade near the Atlantic Ocean, in a beachside neighborhood in Wakefield. Neighbors, local firefighters, and others got into the spirit of things by dressing up in silly costumes, handing out candy, and waving flags as the parade circled from one street to another.

Then, I braved the traffic on the small highway to reach the center of Wakefield to watch the fireworks display in center. It has always amazed me how long, loud, and generally impressive small town firework shows are on the Fourth of July. Music, choreography, and people in mice costumes aside, the sheer number of fireworks set off on the fourth could compete with the best fireworks shows that Disney World has to offer. And that’s saying a lot—because fireworks shows at Disney are, for the most part, quite impressive.

The first time I wasn’t home on the Fourth of July was in 2009, when I sat on a balcony in Kočevje, Slovenia, looking up at the dark night sky. The peacefulness of the blackness seemed to swallow me. I don’t remember even seeing any stars. The quiet, the gentle hum of conversations going on around me in a language I couldn’t yet understand seemed to lull me into a sense of  bittersweet homesickness. I was so happy to be in Slovenia, and yet it just felt wrong not to see fireworks, or to have a day off from school or work, or to see people waving American flags on the fourth.

Of course, it was more than reasonable that none of this was happening in Slovenia. After all, only citizens tend to celebrate their own countries’ independence days. But I didn’t realize quite how much Americans celebrate—perhaps more than many countries in the world, or at least at lot more than Slovenia. The Slovenian independence day is in June, and I’d also been in Slovenia for that particular holiday in 2009. As far as I could tell—and at least where I was staying in Kočevje—there was nothing out of the ordinary about that day, despite the fact that, at that point, Slovenia had only been independent for 18 years. I had expected something more, somehow, since their actual date of independence was so much nearer in years.

In 2010, I woke up in Uxbridge, Mass., on the Fourth of July—but in some sense of historical irony, boarded a plane bound for England in the afternoon. Instead of walking with my family to a bridge over the Charles River in Cambridge to watch the impressive display of Boston fireworks, I stared straight out the window and saw only clouds as my ears began popping. The plane was nearly empty, aside from an Irish woman sitting next to me who was flying for the first time since her husband had died, and who sounded like she really needed someone to talk to. For the next several hours, I pulled an all-nighter listening to her talk about her grandchildren in a pleasant Irish brogue.

This year, I’ll be in Slovenia again, most likely in Ljubljana. On the night of the fourth, there might be stars twinkling up in the sky again—but I doubt I’ll see fireworks.

But this year—since I’ve been in Slovenia for more than a month and a half, the amounts of time I spent in Slovenia and England in 2009 and 2010—I’ve met a few American friends.

And that’s why—in the spirit of many small towns I know so well in New England—we’ll be creating our own Fourth of July celebration… a few days later.

On the eighth of July, we’ll get together for a barbeque, and my American roommate and I have volunteered to make a cake with whipped cream frosting, with blueberries and strawberries arranged as stars and stripes, as I remember doing one year when I was about 10 in New Hampshire.

I may not have been home for the Fourth of July for the past few years, but there’s still something special about that day that makes me miss home.

Happy Fourth, everyone!

Published by the Southbridge Evening News and Stonebridge Press newspapers this week.

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