I remember my first July 4th in America. I’d only been in L.A. a few months and was still marveling at the endless sunshine. I was in Beverly Hills that day and saw a red English double-decker bus being driven slowly along Wilshire Boulevard. Along both sides were large white banners with “Happy Birthday America – love, Mum” written in bold print. It was an image I have never forgotten.
That first July 4th was spent with an international group in an Australian friend’s back garden (or yard, to use the local term) where we all celebrated the start of our new lives in California – the land of such promise, excitement and new ideas.
As the years progressed I won the coveted Green Card, so I was working as an actress and enjoying a thoroughly Americanized summer. On location in Colorado, we had the day off from filming, and had a big barbecue with the crew. (The little English kid in me thought, “Wow! Mum – look at me, in America, celebrating with a Hollywood film crew!”)
I also found myself a wonderful, gorgeous American husband, Rick! And so Independence Days were filled with our own new traditions of hot-dogs, baked-beans and hamburgers with friends and neighbors. Some years we had picnics in the park or by our favorite lake, creating lovely memories. And always the fireworks burst forth over the nearby Hollywood Bowl.
Some of the July 4ths we spent in Kentucky at my late mother-in-law’s farm. What a wonderful slice of Americana: the local town congregated together and roasted a wild hog over coals in a huge, rusty brazier thingy. A local country and western group performed on a flat-bed truck and American flags flew everywhere. It was a ‘pot-luck’ affair, so there were tables groaning with an assortment of pies, savory things and desserts. A delicious chicken-like dish that one of the neighbors had brought turned out to be frogs’ legs! “Frog Gigging” was a local past-time, I learned. “Ya just have to remember to cut the tendons before ya cook it, or the darned leg will hop right out of the pan before ya can catch it!” As Hardin County was a ‘dry’ county, I am not sure what they were all drinking from an assortment of bottles. “It’ll put hair on yer chest…” I heard. I decided to pass on that one.
Sometimes, Rick and I were back in England where Rick observed that July 4th went strangely unnoticed – save for a few American ex-pats who had their own barbecues and flag-waving.
One memorable Independence Day we spent at sea. Rick’s boss, Oprah Winfrey, had rented a luxury cruise ship (as you do!) to celebrate the 25th anniversary of her television show and to thank her entire staff for all their hard work over the years. Rick and I were tickled pink when we were invited to join this Mediterranean cruise. After we left the last stop on the island of Malta, we headed back to Barcelona and we were at sea on July 4th – of course, not an occasion celebrated in Europe. The organization for that day was mind-boggling! The huge swimming-pool deck was covered and, after a ‘group photo’ of all the Harpo staff with their ‘plus-one’ and guests like Rick and me, the festivities began with a live band and several long tables filled with every sort of food imaginable and a large barbeque. The music and dancing went on until the small hours, long after we had retired. It was a good thing we were in the middle of the ocean with no neighbors to disturb – except the fishes and the dolphins.
I grew up watching American movies with July 4th Independence Day celebrations. They always appeared such a fun gathering for families and friends where everyone prepared their special dishes and decorated whole neighborhoods with red, white and blue. I loved being able to share this tradition.
But then I get the best of both worlds, as I can also celebrate Bonfire Night with fellow Brits or my family – as well as Boxing Day, which is just another workday in America.
When, as a young girl, I first heard about July 4th – Independence Day – when all that British tea was thrown into the bay, my selfish reaction was – how many delicious cups of tea were lost? But lo these many years later, and now as an American Citizen, it’s a different matter.
I think about the meaning of Independence Day: America’s independence from Great Britain, free to make its own decisions and rules. These days we enjoy our individual sense of independence. Today, more than ever, most people are free to create their own lives, go their own direction. As writers I feel we are privileged to have each created our own literary world, writing about whatever takes our fancy – even following our own schedules and timetables – except for those pesky publisher deadlines.
Happy Independence Day, one and all!