Turkey and tree trimmings are wonderful, but there’s always been something special about Independence Day for me. I started my first job out of college on the Bicentennial (July 4, 1976), and more recently, I built some warm, wonderful memories in California with some folks that everyone needs to know about.
From 2002 to 2005, I was invited to a July 4 party with a family in Orange County, CA, near my home. The invitation came from the mother, Debra Poor, with whom I still stay in touch. The hum of friendly activity and the feeling of warmth is something I feel to this day, and which will always be a part of my July 4 holiday.
Summers are not as sticky in SoCal as they are in the South, of course, and so it was fun to arrive in midafternoon just as the grill was being heated up. Family members also would also drive up from San Diego, where the hostess was born and where I also lived for many years. Boyfriends (and even a parent) of the household’s three daughters often would be part of the gathering.
After the burgers, dogs and chips had been digested, it was fun to watch the fireworks over Lake Mission Viejo. Some could also be seen over the hill from my home just a few miles away. I’d try to add to the fun with Independence Day trivia questions. (Sample: where was Francis Scott Key when he wrote “The Star Spangled Banner”?) I’d usually stump everyone. I’ve long known that I missed my true calling as a game show host.
My part of the tradition ended when I moved to the Atlanta area, and from what I hear, the celebrations aren’t quite as lively these days, due to an empty nest. But for me, that adds to the special flavor.
The hostess is special to many people because there’s a lot to be admired there. Quite a bit of the rearing of three wonderful daughters was done by her alone, after a divorce.
I got a glimpse of some of the action: when one daughter cut her hand at home and had to rush to the ER, I went to the oldest daughter’s workplace to warn her that things were disheveled. When Debra was hospitalized in 2004, the oldest daughter and I were at the hospital together for consolation and support. One daughter was 13 when the mother and I met. That same daughter drove across the country a few months ago with a friend; I was an East Coast emergency number.
But time passes. The oldest daughter, a teacher, was married in 2006 and is yearning for a family of her own; Debra, as you might imagine, is quite excited about becoming a grandmother. The middle daughter lives in San Diego and works as a probation officer. The youngest is now 21 and works at an assisted living center. The mother? Still teaching at the same elementary school in OC after 20-plus years, except now with a master’s degree.
Many wonderful things happened to me in my 22 years in Southern California. But that family and those gatherings top it all. And it makes the 2009 holiday special, too.