July 4, 2011. The folding chairs are empty now. A few hours ago they held parents and children, soaked in sun and sugar and the abundance of a 4th of July hometown parade, complete with mayors (actual and honorary), little league team champions, marching bands and local heroes. Behind this front row of parade watchers, on our lawn a party bustled, centered on friendships, some 40-years deep and counting, some destined to be.
The Palisades parade is one of my earliest memories. As a little girl I had the sense of astonished luck that my home was on the parade route. Because everyone spoke of “the parade,” I was convinced that it was the only parade on the planet. And lucky me, I lived right in front of it! I never had as great a thrill as when, at three years old, I learned that I would get to ride in a convertible in the parade because my father was running for California Assembly. I sat on the top of the back seat at my father’s side, waving my American flag at the people lining the street – my street! Did life really promise such peaks of joy? It did.
We moved when I was six. Only three blocks, but far enough to be off the parade route. A new tradition was born. I’d wake up on July 4th (not quite early enough to run the town’s annual 10K with my dad), and ride my bike carrying an aging yellow bedspread under one arm. I’d lay the blanket in front of my elementary school, and my friends and family would join there to watch the parade, before heading to our house for what became an “after the parade” party. That was my spot for the next ten years, until college broke that pattern.
Many years and a few cities later, I found myself married and the mother of a three year old, living back in my hometown. Maybe not coincidentally, we chose a house that was graced by the path of the 4th of July parade. I was eight months pregnant with our second son for our first July 4th in our home. The parade was more substantial – the town had grown. No longer could a child expect to lay a blanket for prime seating in the shade on the morning of the parade. Now lawn chairs claimed space on Sunset Boulevard two days in advance of the event. Real estate had become more precious in every way.
Seven years have passed since we bought our house. Seven parades. Each year we added more names to our guest list as more friends were made. That unborn baby turns seven in two weeks. His big brother, now ten and a half, ran with me this morning.
A lot is over. Today was our last parade. The moving truck comes Saturday. Many months ago, we decided that the smart thing to do was live somewhere with a smaller cost, less stress and more freedom. When we finally signed the contract handing over our house to another family with two small boys, fireworks sparkled over our heads: we’re free.
In the heady moment of becoming untethered, we remembered that life is an experience that happens only once. We want to live with meaning. Make more memories. A choice was made: let’s go. So when the moving truck leaves here Saturday, it won’t head to a new address for us to unpack our stuff, get comfortable and continue in the same rhythm, never skipping a beat. It will head to storage, and we will head for a small taste of exploration. Two months traveling our country, to places that formed the heart of the history that led to today’s celebration of independence. Philadelphia. Boston. New Hampshire and Vermont. New York. Virginia. We will be hot on the trail of those revolutionaries who fought for liberty from the King, and those who a century later fought for liberation from slavery.
As I sit now and relive this day, the warm air has cooled to pre-dusk perfection. The last guests have gone. The trash and recycling bins are full. Home-made decorations still float on the trees. Our flag flutters by the door and the pinwheels we planted in the lawn yesterday, spin and refract the last of the late afternoon summer sun.
Christopher and I drink champagne alone on our front yard, watching the neighborhood transform itself back to normal. My heart is hopeful, scared and content. I am grateful for the blessings of this day: the chocolate-smeared, sunburned smiles of my children; good friends who show up every year, or after twenty-five years; the delirium of not knowing exactly what’s to come.
Happy Independence Day.