I know a lot about the 4th of July. I once wrote a book with a pal called How to Raise An American. It was chock-full of information about all things patriotic. I know that John Adams gave the first instructions to his wife on how to celebrate America’s birthday. He knew it was going to be a really, really big deal.
He wrote the long-suffering Abigail, “I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding Generations as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by Solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”
Other fun factoids to drop in the middle of your barbecue to show you would score well on the Jeopardy American History category: Adams and Jefferson both died on the 4th of July fifty years after they signed the Declaration. In Boston, Adams’ last words, allegedly, were “Jefferson still lives.” But he was wrong. Jefferson had died at Monticello two hours earlier.
Another detail that only a writer can appreciate: Jefferson made 87 changes to the Declaration before it was approved, gritting his teeth all the while.
Now I have always loved the 4th. For years, Macy’s fireworks displays were over the Hudson River. Since our apartment windows look out over that river, we always hosted parties to watch the fireworks. One of the best July 4ths ever was in 1976 -- the Bicentennial. That year, hundreds of tall ships from around the world, mostly sailing ships from the 19th century, converged in New York harbor to take part in the celebration.
We had an all-day party to watch them as they made their stately voyage up to the George Washington Bridge. I remember my sons, who were very small at the time, helped me make a Flag birthday cake. It is easy to do on any 4th of July. Just bake or buy a sheet cake and decorate it to look like Old Glory with strawberries or raspberries and blueberries, all in season, and lots of whipped cream.
My son, the one who had his nose pressed against the glass watching the ships that day, is now grown, of course, and an officer in the Navy Reserve who works and lives in Washington D.C. in a condo overlooking the Potomac River with a great view of the Capitol and the Washington and Lincoln Memorials. Following family tradition, he, too, always hosts a 4th of July party to watch the D.C. fireworks.
Several years ago, a friend brought a young woman to the party who loved the fireworks, the view—and, not long after, my son. They were married and now host their own 4th of July celebration every year. Last year, for the first time, I went to watch the fireworks in DC. But I really went to hold my new grandson.
Now the Macy’s fireworks are back over the Hudson. I can’t wait until my grandson—and my granddaughter, too —will be pressing their noses against the window and watching the fireworks that celebrate, as Adams instructed, the great festival of our freedom.