THE DAY AFTER
July 4th in Bristol, RI every year is like a wedding. Like an engagement, the planning begins the day after the event and goes full throttle until the big day, usually the following year. Being the oldest and longest running parade in the country, Bristol, RI’s famous July 4th gets a lot of attention and with great reason; it is Americana 101. Good old fashioned family get togethers, back yard barbeques, outdoor concerts and everything in between.
Like a wedding that doesn’t have a honeymoon scheduled the next day, though, July 5th comes with a heavy heart. For many Bristolians, a word for anyone who is born here (in actuality, it is a word some Bristol residents say to describe not only being born here, but being born HERE, like in your actual house and being part of a family who has lived here several generations ago) there is a big let down. I am not a “Bristolian” in the self proclaimed definition sense, but since I have resided here, for half of my 52 year old life, raised our son, have started and maintained my business here and been a community activist here, I will go out on a limb to say that I consider myself part of the tribe we call Bristol. I may not have the bragging rights to say that I have a large circle of family generations, but if Bristol were to be defined by community and love of town, I am definitely a proud, card bearing resident and I love the July 4th celebration.
July 4th in Bristol, RI is even more of a blast if you have a house on or near the parade route and for the past four years, I do. My son and I have the best of both worlds because our house is only four houses down from the actual route so it is easy to participate or avoid the madness depending on your mood (or the sun) on the day.
The first rule of the July 4th parade here is to wake up at the un-Godly hour of 3:30 or 4:00am so you can prepare to claim your stakes on a good spot to place your chairs. Even though there are signs everywhere saying that placing chairs before 5am is not allowed, there are no chair police patrolling our end of the street which is usually the residents and not the tourists. For some people like my favorite neighbor, Dottie, who is 84 and has lived next door for over seventy years, there is a science to the process.
She places like twenty chairs and makes sure she gets the “family spot” under a shady tree. She gets up there and starts her patrol at about 4am. I am guessing here, because I am still sleeping. On hot days, which is usually the case, this has proven to be an excellent strategy. My strategy is when I go to bed on July 3rd, I say, “if I wake up at 4:30, I will place chairs, if not I will take what is left.” This year, I woke up at 4:30 so I just walked up to the corner in my jammies and took the spot that no one wants because it is in the straight sun. I placed my chairs and blanket and voila done in five minutes, no stress. Actually, in all of the years I have lived here, I have only done the chair thing one other time and that was when my mother was visiting over fifteen years ago. My son and I know so many people on the route, that we have always just gone to their houses and done the freeloading thing. I am in the good enough circle. For true Bristolians, like Dottie, this is sacrilege. After all we are talking tradition here.
This year though, I was hosting a big fest, the first time in our house I have done this. This was our fourth year living directly in town (this means that we live in a place where after 8am, you basically cannot leave because the streets are closed off). The previous years, I just kept it to inviting a couple, small and intimate. This year though, I went all out. Maybe it was because this was my son’s first summer back from his first year of college or because of the incredible energy I have felt since I have recovered from my double mastectomy and reconstruction surgery three months ago. I just want to celebrate life often with my son and the people I call family. And celebrate we did.
I cooked too much food, a prerequisite for Bristol, July 4th festivity, I drank too much too early, another rule, thank you Gasbarros for the Proseco recommendation, no hangover. (Another reason to buy, along with great food, great wine.) I claimed parking spots on the street so I could make sure to have enough room for my guests to park in the driveway and I cooked up a storm. Baked French toast and blueberry cake, afterall, when your day starts at 4:30am, people have to eat breakfast. Burgers, lasagna, dips, baked ziti, salads, and about five desserts. Completely unnecessary, but for some reason, tradition. The shopping, the decorating, the organizing gives me such pleasure that though I wake up with a heavy sad heart at yet another July 4th gone by, I am so satisfied that I hosted and created a tradition. Perhaps this is one of the many lessons I have learned from my neighbor. No matter how exhausted or wiped this party that basically starts on Flag Day gets us, there is an inordinate amount of joy it brings to our lives. I know that I participated and created my own tradition the way I dictate and if this is the torch that Dottie and my dear friend Marcia (the person I have basically parade freeloaded from for the past fifteen years) have taught me, it is the importance of continuity and tradition. Though I may not have family abounding around here besides my son and my partner and his son, we make our own family with deep rooted connections of friendships and pretend families. Often times these connections are even more satisfying then the real deal.
And I can’t wait until next year to do it all again.
Thank you July 4th committee for your hard work in making sure that this family affair continues boldly and brightly.